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Business booms in Isiolo on the promise of Lapsset

By Lee Mwiti | September 27th 2016
By Lee Mwiti | September 27th 2016
The new road leading to the Isiolo International Airport. The Government has connected more than 6,000 homes in the area to the grid since 2013, as well as 140 primary schools, according to a report by the Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU). (PHOTO: COURTESY)

Halima Hassan has not known the kind of life where the simple flick of a switch floods a room with light.

She is from Kambi Garba in Isiolo County, where you find a melting pot of communities. In this area, livestock rearing, which features drought-defying camel, is a lifeline.

Most homes in Kambi Garba have never been connected to electricity, but this is where Ms Hassan has brought up her eight children. A few months ago, however, her modest house along the Isiolo-Moyale Road was connected to the national grid in a Government-spearheaded project.

Soon after, Hassan bought a television set, and then a refrigerator that has changed her family’s fortunes. For Hassan, the fridge means a steady income.

The dairy camel farmer’s herd is about 118 kilometres away in Garba Tula. Her employees milk the animals throughout the night and then send her the milk by road to Isiolo town.

“Sometimes business is low and we do not sell all the milk,” she said through an interpreter.

“Before, this would mean the milk would go bad, a big loss for a small-scale farmer like me.”

But now, thanks to a power connection that cost her Sh1,000, such losses are a thing of the past.

And she is not the only one with a positive story to tell in this dry area in Northern Kenya, which together with neighbouring counties of Marsabit, Moyale, Turkana and Samburu, makes up about 70 per cent of the country’s land mass.

Next frontier

The region, however, has been ignored for decades, leaving residents in crippling poverty.

But now, like in many other parts of Kenya, electricity poles are being erected, with wiring leading to even the humblest of homes.

And with major infrastructure projects aimed at connecting East Africa passing through Isiolo, the region is set to become the next frontier for business.

The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor (Lapsset) has inspired major investments, including casinos, hotels and retail outlets.

Plans for a resort city, as well as a highway linking Lamu, Isiolo, South Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia, have catalysed the county’s transformation. The completion of the terminal for an international airport is already attracting logistics firms.

A few metres away from Hassan is Halima Kanu’s house. With her husband Abdi Guyo and four children, Ms Kanu says the connection to the grid has made her family feel like “the Government is genuinely uplifting us”.

They have ready access to entertainment through their TV set, and the children can now do their homework in an environment free from kerosene hazards.

“It [the TV] is only three months old,” said the primary school teacher, adding, a bit embarrassed, “it is the first time in my life I have had a television in the house.”

Core projects

The Government has connected more than 6,000 homes in the area to the grid since 2013, as well as 140 primary schools, according to a report by the Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU).

And in Isiolo town, according to PDU, there is an ongoing public street lighting exercise whose target is to erect 362 lights at a cost of Sh18 million.

Lapsset’s core projects are estimated to inject 2 per cent to 3 per cent of GDP in the target areas, according to a July 2016 report by the Lapsset Corridor Development Authority. The massive infrastructure project has a budget estimate of Sh2.4 trillion.

And though its progress has been hampered by a dearth of funds, with the port, for instance, two years behind schedule, there has been notable progress.

Aside from the electricity connections, the 1,566km Isiolo-Moyale-Addis Ababa road is 85 per cent complete. It is expected to be fully completed by December this year, according to the July report.

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