A few weeks ago, this newspaper reported the busting of a suspected underage sex ring in an apartment in Ruaka.
The apartments block where this happened would be right at home in a posh Nairobi suburb, which is what Ruaka is becoming.
The changes come complete with urban ills that would have had villagers in Ruaka up in arms 10 years ago.
But Ruaka is no longer a village on the periphery of the capital city, something shared by quite a few other areas that have been swallowed by the urban sprawl as Nairobi grows.
Zachary Njehu has lived in Kabete, near Kikuyu all his life. The father of three recalls the then slow pace of life when everyone in the village was familiar with one another, and was each other’s keeper. Any stranger stood out.
To have a haircut, all Njehu had to do was walk to the old shopping centre and look for the local barber, an elderly man who sat under the shade of a tree with a mirror dangling from a tree. The barber would use vintage clippers, or a pair of scissors.
On the way home, Njehu would pick groceries from a shopkeeper who had no qualms lending a few items to his family in lean times.
In those days, when meat was a luxury item on the menu, it would take the whole village about three days to clear a single carcass at the local butchery. In any case, Kikuyu and surrounding areas were predominantly agricultural areas where vegetables thrived.
Then things changed. The old barber has since been replaced by a suave young man whose barber shop looks more like an entertainment centre with multi-coloured lights reflected in the mirrors.
And rather than just dash home after a haircut, a customer now sits in at the barber shop for some “extras” in the name of a relaxing head wash and some light massage provided by a bevy of beautiful girls.
The revolution in Njehu’s neighbourhood mirrors that of many former quiet villages on the periphery of the capital city. Ruaka, Kikuyu, Ndenderu and Ruiru are some of Kiambu suburbs that are slowly being assimilated into city lifestyle.
When we met him in Kikuyu Town, Njehu was attending a court hearing in which his family has sued a Chinese road contractor for encroaching on their land even before due compensation can be effected by the road authorities.
“These (court cases) are the results of urbanisation. We never had to deal with such matters before,” he says.
As Nairobi expands to accommodate an ever rising population, these areas have paid the ultimate price as their social, cultural and economic lifestyles morph to mirror modern living.
“We are surrounded by new lifestyles we knew little about,” Njehu tells us as we walk the streets of Kikuyu Town. “We used to send our children to the shops by themselves. Now we must hold their hands to navigate the busy highways.”
The expansion of Thika Road into a superhighway and construction of the Eastern and Southern Bypasses were the initial signals that life was about to change in these rural landscapes.
Plans are underway to dual Kiambu Road.
The Western Bypass, another new dual carriageway currently under construction, cuts through a piece of Njehu’s ancestral land.
An influx of educational facilities has further changed the face of these regions. For example, University of Nairobi has two campuses in the vicinity – Kikuyu and Kabete Campuses.
To accommodate the hundreds of students, landowners here have either sold their land to developers or constructed hostels themselves. This, says Njehu, has had a social impact on the rural folk.
“It is not unusual to see two young people, a boy and a girl, holding hands as they walk. This was shocking to our grandmothers but I think they are getting used to it,” he says.
Despite the social revolution, the “coming” of the city to the rural areas has had good tidings for property owners.
In the 1990s, when there was little demand for land, a plot measuring 100 by 100 feet around Kikuyu and Kabete went for Sh200,000. Today, a
similar piece of land sells between Sh15 and Sh20 million.
Strewn around these areas are new apartment buildings flanked by low-lying family homes and lush agricultural produce. In fact, it is not uncommon to see an apartment block in the middle of a maize or vegetable farm.
“The locals have realised that they have been sitting on a goldmine. Their pieces of land have suddenly appreciated as demand to house the city population rises. With changing fortunes, some who lived in semi permanent structures can now afford to build permanent homes and send their children to good schools,” says Mark Makori, a local realtor.
Makori says the people here still practice agriculture and might be at a crossroads as they have to choose between disposing entire parcels of land and hiving off some for farming purposes.
“There are those who have decided to do both. They have built some rentals and at the same time engaged in small scale farming since they have a ready market,” says Makori.
In addition, Makori says there are those who dispose of their property and choose to relocate to other areas where they can acquire new property at a cheaper rate.
However, Njehu says some who planned badly have suffered more after disposing the land. He cites cases where some individuals blew up millions within a relatively short time due to lack of a feasible investment plan.
“Some found themselves handling large sums of cash than they had ever come across in their entire lives. Perhaps out of excitement, they squandered the cash with their condition getting worse than it was prior to the sale. Some are just walking around dejected with no land and no money,” says Njehu.
In Ruaka, life changed the moment Two Rivers mall broke ground. The largest mall in sub-Saharan Africa has dictated the pace of life in the once nondescript outpost in Kiambu that borders affluent suburbs such as Runda and Rosslyn.
Here, landowners live with the hope that another big developer will knock on their doors and change their lives for the better.
Some are knocking. Cytonn Investments, for example, has put up close to 500 residential units on a piece of land bordering rural homes. Further up Limuru Road, palatial homes targeting Nairobi’s urban cream are coming up.
As the good old days ebb away, people like Njehu can only hope that the rising tide of urbanisation will not take away his cherished lifestyle.