Gold rush: Sh31b road project triggers mad scramble for land

The state plans to spend Sh31b convert the Kenol-Sagana-Marua road into a dual highway. [File, Standard]

The proposal to convert the Kenol-Sagana-Marua road into a dual highway has driven entrepreneurs into a land-buying frenzy.

The Sh31 billion expansion of the Nairobi-Nyeri highway from Kenol – where Thika Road ends to Marua in Nyeri – has led to a scramble for land along the highway.

And property prices have skyrocketed, with an acre that previously went for about Sh200,000 now being offered for as much as Sh4 million. In some areas the same goes for Sh7 million.

At the same time a number of 'nyama choma’ outlets have sprouted between Makuyu and Kenol, land which was previously under coffee.

Keen to benefit from the mega project, Innscor, a local fast food chain, has also opened restaurants at Kenol.

According to a Thika-based land agent Joseph Mwaniki, the project caught the attention of speculators due to the push and pull over where exactly it would pass.

“Six or so years ago an acre along this highway cost about Sh200,000 depending on the terrain. But right now it ranges between Sh3 million and Sh5 million. And once the construction of the roadstarts it could shoot up to Sh7 million,” said Mwaniki.

Allan Kamau, an agent who makes a living sealing land deals along the highway, said the increased demand had pushed prices even higher in nearby areas.

“Plots next to the highway fetch between Sh7 million and Sh10 million per acre,” said Kamau.

Reports about some land prospectors duping families into selling their land for a song have also emerged.

The mega project will traverse Murang'a, Kirinyaga, Machakos, Embu and end in Nyeri at the Nanyuki-road junction

The section of the corridor targeted is served by a two-way highway which has in the recent past witnessed increased traffic.

Among the areas to be served by the road are Mwea in Kirinyaga County, known for French bean production.

Attractive land prices are driving some owners to let go of their property and move to areas where they can acquire bigger pieces of land at cheaper rates.

Beth Wanjiru, a resident of Makuyu, said her family was planning to sell their three acres and use the proceeds to buy a bigger parcel in Nyandarua for agriculture.

"Since the land is small for a family of six, we resolved to sell it and get a big share in Nyandarua in an area we have identified," said Wanjiru.

Dual carriageway

The upgrading of the road into a dual carriageway, is aimed at easing traffic congestion on a section of the Northern Corridor that caters for the agriculture-rich central Kenya.

The landscape is already changing; major developments are taking shape, especially in the hospitality industry.

Prospectors started buying and selling land mostly to developers who are engaged in the hospitality business.

Already, shopping malls are taking shape along the road. 

Some of the businesses that stand to gain the most from the project include adventure tourism and extreme sports such as kayaking and white water rafting which are popular along river Sagana.

Shrewd investors who took advantage of plans to expand the road earlier are already reaping rewards. "I bought this land cheaply, because there was no demand by then," said Peter Kibinda, a former consultant with Nairobi Metropolitan.

Five years ago, he established Trotters Hotel along the road after he getting wind of the proposal to convert the section to dual carriage highway.

Anthony Koine, an employee of Savage Wilderness Camp, said the project was the spark that the tourism industry in the region needed. "I think in a way we will benefit because Kenyans want to go to areas that are accessible. The project will generate interest in the region," he said.

But the increased demand has brought with it unscrupulous land agents out to swindle gullible businessmen.

Maragua South Sub-County Administrator Benson Njihia said a number of investors had approached his office for advice.

[Reporting by Boniface Gikandi, Allan Mungai and Kamau Munene]