Nanyuki's rise despite loss of headquarters woos investors

An aeriel view of Nanyuki town. [iStockphoto]

The growth of Nanyuki town has been fast amidst ongoing infrastructural advancements fueled by devolution and upgrading to municipality status.

Christened Mwisho wa Reli, the town that boasts a population of 72,600 inhabitants, nestles along the slopes of Mt Kenya. It has proved to be a magnet for investors keen on exploring its huge potential.

Established in 1920, the town marked its centenary in 2020, earning the name - gateway to Northern Kenya. There are goods and passenger trains that operate along the Nanyuki-Nairobi route.

In 2023, Laikipia Governor Joshua Irungu, through a gazette notice, declared the town a municipality.

Distinguished by its unique tourist attractions, including premier hospitality establishments, Nanyuki’s lies on the Equator, flanked by the counties of Meru and Nyeri. It is enveloped by wildlife sanctuaries of Ol Jogi, Ol Pejeta, and William Holdens, among others.

It is also home to numerous private settlers, operating cottages, several military installations, and the British Army Training Unit (BATUK), serving as the pre-eminent employer after flower farms.

In terms of industries, Nanyuki boasts a diverse landscape, with the latest addition being a motorcycle assembly plant.

According to James Matheri, a resident, the town is ripe for investment, attracting scores of entrepreneurs in pursuit of land for holiday retreats and cottage industries.

“Nanyuki is blessed with a refreshing breeze from Mt Kenya and pristine water sourced from the mountain,” remarked Matheri, a resident of Umande market.

Late last year, Nanyuki lost Laikipia County headquarters to Rumuruti, yet most traders have persisted in expanding their enterprises.

Laikipia County Secretary Koinange Wahome said Nanyuki represents a top-tier business conferencing hub, serving as a cornerstone for the government’s multi-agency coordination.

It hosts a large number of real estate players, who bring in hundreds of investors weekly, he adds.

“Nanyuki with expansive facilities housing the executive office of the governor and various county government departments, remains the leading own source revenue contributor,” said Mr Koinange.

Nanyuki Municipality Manager Alex Mwangi says there are elaborate plans aimed at fostering development - enticing more investors and fostering job creation.

Mwangi argued that the county headquarters relocation did not diminish Nanyuki’s economic prowess, which has long served as an economic nucleus.

He asserts the town’s status as an investment hotspot, teeming with diverse business ventures, steeped in a rich history dating back to the arrival of white settlers. 

Laikipia Chief Finance Officer Daniel Ngumi said from fiscal years 2018 to 2022, the town witnessed a remarkable increase in banks and saccos, growing from 79 to 94 entities, as noted in the County Statistical Abstract 2023. 

“This surge underscores our robust financial markets. Moreover, the notable rise in sacco loans, from Sh1.5 billion to Sh2 billion, reflects the escalating demand for financial resources to propel economic activities,” said Ngumi

Peter Kamanja a resident of Majengo informal settlement echoes similar sentiments, affirming abundant opportunities in Nanyuki and its environs, insulating the locale from the repercussions of the county government’s relocation.

“Nanyuki has historically served as a rest stop for travellers heading northward,” noted Kamanja.

Ms Ruth Maingi, a local entrepreneur specialising in flight bookings and tourism promotion, extols the world-class wildlife conservation havens of Ol Pejeta, Ol Jogi, Ol Naishu, and other ranches, drawing scores of domestic and international tourists.

“The town’s proximity to Mount Kenya, ensconced within wildlife conservancies, beckons visitors seeking distinctive experiences like safaris, mountain expeditions, and ecotourism,” said Ms Maingi.

Dr Ndegwa Gitonga, representing the Laikipia chapter of the Kenya National Chambers of Commerce and Industry, decries the adverse impact of the county headquarters exodus on the hospitality sector.

“The headquarters relocation from Nanyuki dealt a severe blow to local businesses and proved detrimental to investors,” lamented Ndegwa.

University student Ibraham Abdi echoes concerns regarding the relocation’s repercussions, fearing the diminution of Nanyuki’s commercial vitality.

“The town has long served as a bustling commercial hub, and while appearing tranquil, it harbours a myriad of opportunities,” observed Abdi.

He highlights Nanyuki’s role as a nexus for NGOs investing in education and youth empowerment beyond academic pursuits.

An additional revenue stream stems from the lucrative woodcarving industry, which captivates both local and international tourists.

“Woodcarving endeavours yield substantial returns, with the smallest artefacts fetching no less than Sh700, and larger pieces commanding upwards of Sh10,000,” Abdi disclosed.

Laikipia East Deputy County Commissioner Patrick Muli lauds the improved security in Nanyuki, attributing it to collaborative efforts between leaders and residents. 

“Nanyuki hosts the largest Majengo settlement in Kenya, housing thousands, followed by Likii and Ichuga,” Mr Muli, who chairs the security committee, asserted.