Twenty years ago, Kenol in Murang'a County was a jungle no one took interest in.
Land prices were low. The lucrative option for enterprising locals was to sell land and resettle.
However, the fortunes of the area have changed. It is now one of the fastest-growing commercial centres in Central Kenya.
The market centre is where the late freedom fighter and former Kandara MP Bildad Kaggia operated a posho mill.
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Kenol had been a quiet shopping centre until devolution, when it was identified as a commercial centre.
Murang’a town was designated as the county headquarters while Maragua became the industrial town.
Jane Nyambura, a retired police officer, regrets why she was duped into disposing of her acre of land in Gituura village, in 1998 at Sh100,000. She felt the area was unattractive.
“I scouted for a buyer for my parcel of land for more than seven months and eventually a buyer was ready for the deal,” said Nyambura, now a resident of Shamata in Nyandarua County.
Today, an acre of land fetches over Sh25 million, depending on the surroundings, with the majority of the people working in Nairobi and Thika scouting for areas to build homes.
The growth in the number of families has given rise to seven private and nursery schools in Kenol.
The journey to transform Kenol started with the late William Mbote, who opened a petrol station along the Nyeri-Nairobi highway in a deserted corner.
The petrol station became popular with the establishment of makeshift hotels around it.
It became a popular stopover for motorists from Nairobi heading to Mt Kenya region and vice-versa.
The development of the market centre was fraught with many hurdles as criminal gangs extorted money from investors, demanding that they give ‘protection levy’.
The then Maragua District Security Committee dealt a blow to criminal gangs with the support of local investors.
Shaken out of slumber by devolution, the town is facing yet another incentive to grow.
The government is expanding the 84-kilometre Kenol-Sagana-Karatina- Marwa highway to a dual carriageway. This project will increase traffic in the Mt Kenya region.
Njau Njoka, an engineer who developed an interest in the market ten years ago, acquired several plots and constructed the Golden Palm Hotel.
The 70-bed hotel now attracts hundreds of visitors.
It has come with its fair share of criticisms from naysayers, however, because as Njoka believed, Kenol was growing into a big town, but critics faulted his logic.
“I was discouraged when setting up the facility as people could not understand why I failed to do the same in Nairobi and Thika,” Njoka said.
He says his facility has now been overwhelmed by the huge number of customers, forcing him to acquire more space.
Along the proposed dual carriage highway, eateries and petrol stations have sprouted up — re-awakening the market centre and creating employment for the youth.
The town is lined with restaurants where motorists make stopovers for the nyama choma.
In the past five years, Kenol market has faced a challenge of clean water and sewage disposal.
This has forced authorities to hold talks to secure land for the construction of the Sh1.4 billion sewerage plant.
Families in lower parts of Kenol market in Santamore petitioned National Environmental Management Agency (Nema) and the Murang’a County Government to stop the sewerage from draining into their buildings.
James Githii, the Murang’a South administrator said there is ample land for expansion of the market.
Kenol market, however, lacks a bus park with passenger service vehicle operators using a road reserve for loading. This poses a huge risk to motorists and other users.
“The old Gituura market was constructed 20 years ago by the defunct Town Council of Maragua but the demand for space has pushed traders to operate along the Murang’a-Kenol highway,” he added.
In addressing the sanitation issues in the growing town, Water and Sanitation Principal Secretary Joseph Wairagu said Athi Water Works Development Agency will fund sewerage and water projects for the growing township.
“A constructor has been identified for the project will start in April next year,” said Wairagu.
Kenol and its environs will be adequately covered.
The land on which the sewerage plant will be constructed is being sourced by the National Lands Commission.
Governor Mwangi wa Iria said the has county has mooted plans to elevate the market to municipal status due to increased business activities.
The governor said his administration has supported the growth of the town.
“Kenol will be the second municipality in Murang’a as it has been a commercial centre," the governor said.
The Kenneth Matiba Eye and Dental Hospital was established at Kenol to serve residents of Mt Kenya region in need of specialised treatment,” he added.
Keitt Exporters, who export avocados, are establishing a packing house, processing centre and factory at Kenol, cementing the status of the town as an industrial hub.