Highway that brought tears, losses to locals

A group of residents of Kabeche market near Chogoria in Tharaka Nithi on July 23, 2018.
An old Thames Trader truck parked at Kabeche market near Chogoria town, Tharaka Nithi County, tells you the settlement had its heyday before the dreams faded into oblivion.

Just two kilometres from Chogoria on the tarred road to Kiangwa and on to Marimba, Katheri and looping on to Meru town, the market, which was the centre of commerce for the Mwimbi community, has many sad reminders that modernisation does not always bring development.

In its heyday, Kabeche had two banks and a vibrant open air market on Wednesdays. Traders from as far as Tharaka would bring mats, baskets, brooms and livestock and buy bananas, peas, sugar and cooking fat.

But Kabeche has slowly lost its allure to Chogoria, which in the 1970s and 1980s was just known for its mission hospital and the nearby famous girls’ high school.

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When the Sh6 billion rural roads were built mainly for South Imenti at the mid of President Mwai Kibaki’s presidential term, many residents had expected a rejuvenation of Kabeche market, which was dissected in half.

The roads were built between 2006 and 2013 by Reynolds Construction Company (Nigeria) Ltd.

But for 10 families which were previously the market elites, it was a reversal of fortunes, their businesses collapsed and they have now been waiting for compensation for over a decade.

They blame the government, saying their families were running stable businesses in permanent structures built as early as the 1950s only for the road construction to shake their building foundations and leave them hanging dangerously on a collapsing embankment four metres above the tarmac road.

Unsafe buildings

“An assessment after the initial earthworks reportedly declared all the 10 buildings unsafe for human occupation and we were told all of us deserved to be compensated,” says Catherine Ireri, 66, who co-owns one of the buildings.

But the Kenya Rural Roads Authority (Kerra), while not ruling out possibility of genuine claimants, says the last landowners under the Imenti-Kionyo-Chogoria roads were compensated under six Gazette notices issued in October 2009 and November 2010.

“We wish to request the affected members at Kabeche market to identify themselves and clearly document their grievances, attaching all supporting evidence,” says Kerra Public Relations Manager Catherine Butaki.

“Upon receipt of the claims, the Authority shall forward the matter to the National Land Commission (NLC) for adjudication, verification and valuation.”

Butaki says it is only on the recommendation of the NLC that they will pay the claimants.

Ms Ireri says she had been initially offered Sh200,000 for the destruction of her shop but she turned it down because it was too low. She says she deserves to paid at least Sh2 million.

Dunstan Murunja, who owns plot number 17, which hosted his father’s famous shop -- Francis Murunja and Sons -- with shops at the front and one room at the back, had been offered just over Sh600,000 in compensation. But he says the money was never paid.

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Kenya Rural Roads AuthorityHighwaydemolitionstharaka nithi