Interlocking brick making machines stay unused, broken down and rusting in counties

Youth from villages in Mbeere North sub-county, Embu County benefit from joining hands in making interlocking blocks, which are environmental friendly. (Joseph Muchiri, Standard)
As the government pushes to make affordable housing a reality, a plan introduced 16 years ago to bring down the cost of construction lies neglected.

The Government in 2003 introduced the interlocking brick making machine technology. The formal launch of Appropriate Building Technology programme was in 2006.

The ministry bought about 200 hydraform machines between 2003 and 2009 for this purpose from South Africa at between Sh3.4 million to Sh4 million each.

The technology was adopted by the Government while the late Soita Shitanda was the Minister for Housing and Tirop Kosgey the Permanent Secretary as a Low-Cost Housing Policy.

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Each constituency was given one hydraform interlocking brick machine put under the care of the provincial director of housing.

The Appropriate Building Technology programme was aimed at lowering the cost of construction, improving quality of housing and enhancing speed of construction.

The increased promotion of the technology and envisaged adoption by the public would, it was hoped, result in mass bricks production.

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However, 16 years later, most of the machines remain idle, and some broken down in the constituencies. This has been, partly blamed on devolution, with housing becoming a devolved function.

With this, many of the National Government’s housing director officers, who were in charge of the machines at the districts were not able to be absorbed in the county governments system with the exception of Nyeri and Laikipia counties. 

The new hydraulic interlocking block machine constructed by Numerical Machining Complex(NMC).(Courtesy)

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Spare parts problem

“The reason some of the machines are not operational is due to spare parts importation issue. The new machines, called Tofas, being made in Kenya will be selling Sh460,000 for semi-hydraulic and  Sh1.27 million hydraulic  compared to the ones imported from South Africa at between Sh3.4million to Sh4million. We are in discussion with counties ho want to buy their own machines,” said Jane Mwangi, Director of Housing, State Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At the same time, Mwangi said some machines have not broken down but lack diesel to run them since they don’t get money from the exchequer for fuel.

She said every financial year, Sh500,000 per county is sent to cater for the maintenance, and attention is given to counties where the uptake is higher.

“According to Vision 2030, we are supposed to have every machine in each of the 290 Constituencies and in the spirit of ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya’, we are making our machines although the process is still slow,” said Mwangi, who  added that they working together with technical institutions more to increase the technology uptake.

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She said the uptake of the machines has also been low because the ministry only trains the users but not fund the production of the blocks.

The good news, she said, is that the Numerical Machining Complex, which is under the ministry is working on a prototype machine (pictured top right). Once this is approved, mass production will start.

Mwangi said counties like Baringo, Nakuru,Kitui,Makueni and Kajiado have embraced the technology and are doing good job with the machines.

In Kajiado, morans have taken up the idea and are making blocks. Building homes has predominantly been the role of women in this area.

Kwale is one of the counties making good use of the machines under them.

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No financial support

A community based organisation, Bridge for Rural Urban Development (BRUD) had started training slum dwellers in Mukuru Kwa Reuben in Nairobi at St. Jude Catholic Church in 2013 on how to make interlocking blocks using a machine donated to them by the former Ministry of Housing but stopped.

“Phase one was to train the residents on how to use the machines which we did and phase two was to make the houses using the bricks but we had to stop at phase two because of financial support. We had to return to the machine to the Ministry of Housing at Industrial offices where I hope it is,” said Patrick Ndelesi, BRUD chief executive officer.

But even as the government struggles to make this concept work, some are taking to it.

Lukenya University in Machakos, in a bid to cut on construction costs, has started building its hostels with hydraform interlocking bricks.

“The machines are the best solution for rural housing problem. They are cost effective since the bricks are made on site, hence no transportation costs are incurred. The machines also encourages environmental conservation because the blocks made by it does not need curing by fire like bricks are done traditionally,” said Sylvia Kasanga,  nominated senator and director of Sycum Solutions, the firm that designed Lukenya University’s nine hostels. A project whose construction is ongoing.

No maintenance policy

She blames the lack of a maintenance policy to be the reason most of the machines have been grounded.

“There was no maintenance policy at all that spells out how it should be repaired when it breaks down. We would use two machines one from Machakos and another from Makueni County and due to frequent breakdowns and thus eating into our cost of construction which was unfortunate, we had to leave them and the university bought their own machine that they are now using to complete the project,” said Ms Kasanga, an architect.

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