The move by the Jubilee Government to construct the Naivasha Dry Port in 2019 was met with cheers and jeers.
Many termed the dry port a game changer for residents of Mai Mahiu where it’s located, and the larger Nakuru County.
Things were made even better when the national government allocated the county 50 acres to be shared among local investors.
But another group led by the then Deputy President William Ruto (now president) questioned the move to construct the Inland Container Deport (ICD) on what was alleged to be private land.
Traders and leaders from Mombasa also cried foul over the relocation of clearing and forwarding services to the Naivasha facility. They said this would kill the coastal town.
Despite the hue and cry, the government went ahead to construct the port which would be served by the extension of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Nairobi.
The move saw the prices of land literally skyrocket around Kedong where the ICD is located as investors scrambled for any available space.
One acre that was going for Sh75,000 shot to between Sh0.5m and Sh2m, depending on its location and proximity to the port.
Once described as the most barren place in the county, land around Mai Mahiu was now ‘hot-cake’ as companies and individuals sought space for warehouses and offices.
Unscrupulous traders were not left behind as they moved in to sell ‘air’ to unsuspecting members of the public.
According to Samson Mwaura, a land dealer and broker in Naivasha, landowners and traders made quick cash.
He says that for years, the area had been ignored with land prices stagnating until works on the SGR and the ICD kicked off.
“Many families decided to sell off land to willing buyers and the high demand pushed the prices up as investors sought space for clearing and forwarding offices,” he says.
Economist Washington Ouma terms land as one of the components of production, noting that Mai Mahiu freely offered that.
He says that the vast and undeveloped land in the region offered traders an opportunity to invest in various facilities like hotels, clearing offices, petrol stations, and even banks.
“The scramble for land was expected as the dry port would offer hundreds of job and business opportunities,” he said.
All the joy, investment and scramble for the land were however cut short in September this year when President Ruto kept his promise and reverted the clearing and forwarding services to Mombasa.
This saw the collection of cargo at the ICD drop by over 50 per cent as traders who had shown interest in the area developed cold feet.
According to Mwaura, demand for land has completely dropped while tens of those who had acquired acres are keen to sell them.
“An acre of land that was going for over Sh2 million has dropped by 50 per cent and this could go down further in the coming days,” says the land dealer.
This is echoed by Okumu who notes that the presidential directive will have negative effects on development in the area.
“Many of those who had invested on the land were targeting the ICD and with the presidential directive, tens of investors will pull out,” said the economist.
But while visiting the dry port a couple of days ago, Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen said the presidential directive had not affected services at the port.
Murkomen noted that traders, mainly from neighbouring countries were still collecting their goods from Mai Mahiu as the railway was faster, cheaper and more secure than roads.
“We want within five years to extend the SGR from Mai Mahiu to Malaba and this will ease transportation of cargo that is currently been collected from the dry port,” he said.
Naivasha MP Jayne Kihara also defended the presidential directive, noting that the issue of port services and the industrial park were different and should be handled separately.
She lashed out at the former regime, noting that local leaders were not involved in the construction of the dry port which has to date continued to draw more heat than light.
“The president was clear that there will be an industrial park in Mai Mahiu which will create more jobs and the move to relocate the clearing and forwarding services to Mombasa is timely,” she said.
Judyleah Waihenya, the former Chief Officer for land in Nakuru, says that the directive by the president will have major impacts on the planned industrial park in the area.
She said that the county had received 50 acres of land from the national government next to the ICD with the master plan for the multi-billion special economic zone (SEZ) ready.
“Our plan targeted operations around the ICD which included construction of hotels, banks, fueling stations among others but the concept will now have to change,” she says.
Waihenya adds that over 80 investors had shown interest in the economic zone, adding that the concept will have to change as the new government was keen on the park and not the ICD.
“Our plan concentrated on services targeting the traders and transporters around the ICD but with the new directive from the President the county will have to modify its master plan,” she added.
Naivasha Professional Association CEO Absolom Mukhuusi notes that the move spells doom for tens of investors keen on the industrial park.
He says that the association and traders are seeking a meeting with Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika in the coming days to raise their concerns.
“We shall hand over a petition to the governor to pass it to the president as we feel the move to relocate clearing and forwarding services to Mombasa will kill business in Mai Mahiu,” he says.
Mukhuusi adds that billions of taxpayers' cash had been invested in the region wondering what would happen to the current facilities.
“The government used billions to construct the ICD and upgrade the meter-gauge-railway line to Malaba for smooth transportation of goods but this is now a waste,” he says.
An investor Peter Mwathi says that he and other traders who had shown interest in the Special Economic Zone are still trying to digest the implications of the new directive.
He says that they had pegged their investment on the ICD adding that if the clearing and forwarding services were fully withdrawn they would rethink their plans.
“I had received approval from the county to construct a hotel in the area targeting workers from the ICD but this is now a pipe dream due to the presidential directive,” he says.
Former Governor Lee Kinyanjui had termed as economic sabotage and reckless a statement by the Kenya Kwanza team that they would close down the dry port once elected into office.
He challenged the team to engage in conversation on how to enlarge the national cake instead of entertaining retrogressive policies targeting certain regions for short-term political expediency.
He added that the statement was an indication of the contempt with which some leaders held the county adding that they were not lesser citizens than other parts of the country.
“After years of gross marginalization and neglect, they have now resorted to economic sabotage of Nakuru and we shall confront it with all the force necessary,” he said before leaving office.