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Swelling population hinders growth of colonial farming town

HOME & AWAY
By Martin Ndiema | April 8th 2021
A woman works in the refilling of a road in Kitale town on Saturday, March 07, 2020. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Kitale is a scenic urban settlement with fair weather around the year that has drawn many settlers over the years.

The town on the western fringes of the Rift Valley is surrounded by lush farmland and has been known as a robust trading town due to the rich agricultural produce in its mother county, Trans Nzoia.

Yet the town’s beauty has faded away as significant population growth has overstretched the resources and infrastructure that has not expanded in tandem with the residents.

A dilapidated road network, lack of designated parking for public service vehicles (PSVs), regular traffic jams and wild Boda Boda riders are some of the things that presently define the town.

Designed in 1938 by the colonial government, Kitale was expected to host about 10,000 people, mainly farmers, but the population has ballooned to more than 200,000.

Mathew Njoroge, the county’s matatu association chairman, says poor infrastructure has grounded the transport sector in the town.

He says poor drainage systems, lack of parking spaces and impassable roads are some of the things that have destroyed their business.

LESS REVENUE

This, combined with the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, has pushed the association to losses owing to the challenges members are facing.

The county is also collecting less revenue as the PSVs are now paying about Sh2 million monthly to the county government down from Sh4 million when the infrastructure was in better condition.

“Our members have no money due to reduced number of passengers and increased cost of maintenance. This is the reason we opted to reduce their daily contribution because we want them to remain in business,” Mr Njoroge told Home & Away.

The county matatu association has 46 registered Saccos with 3,000 operators while the registered number of Boda Boda operators stands at 65,000, serving over 100,000 passengers daily.

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“The population of Kitale town has ballooned in the recent past due to the increased resettlement of people from other areas,” says Njoroge.

“This has increased pressure on the existing resources. The county government should move with speed and address these challenges for the betterment of businesses in Kitale town.”

The county’s Chamber of Commerce Chairperson Martin Waliaula, who also chairs the newly-constituted Kitale Municipal Board, attributes the congestion and traffic jam to years of neglect by past managers.

He says available facilities cannot handle the current population, saying the national and county governments should increase funds allocated to the board.

Kitale town currently has 10,000 registered businesses and over 15,000 unregistered traders.

Mr Waliaula says the board has initiated the construction of a business centre that will offer space to more than 5,000 traders who are operating along Kitale streets.

“We are already executing our development plans at the Municipal Board. We hope that after completion of the facility, traders will find a conducive environment to conduct their business freely,” he says.

“The solution to our problem is to create more space for our people, this will free our streets.”

Dominic Waweru has been operating a bookshop in Kitale town for 10 years now. He says before devolution, Kitale town was clean and organised.

Shop owners were only allowed to load and offload goods from the back lanes, which ensured that the flow of traffic was not interrupted.

But now, he says, businesses have been allowed to operate freely and load their vehicles on the street.

“Sadly, the county government can’t control the offloading and loading of trucks,” says Waweru.

“We have been raising this issue year in year out, but it seems people with shops are more powerful because nothing is happening. Nobody seems to be interested to help us address the concerns.’’

He says the Trans Nzoia County Assembly should come up with legislation on the use of backstreets and parking spaces.

For Jane Nasimiyu, her roadside business of selling fried fish was grounded by the poor roads in the town.

“I couldn't continue selling fish because it was no longer hygienic,” she says.

“It was too dusty and worse during the rainy season as moving vehicles and Boda Bodas was splashing water all over, owing to numerous potholes in the road.

“The county government needs to move with speed and rescue our businesses by repairing roads and sewage lines within our town.”

Waliaula agrees that traders have suffered a great deal as poor roads have rendered the town unhygienic.

He says the municipal board plans to woo investors to channel their resources to modern and affordable houses, improved road network, and drainage and waste management system.

“We have plans for Kitale town, and that’s the reason we are calling on the residents to support us fulfil this promise,” he says.

Trans Nzoia Governor Patrick Khaemba says the issue of town planning is being addressed by the municipal board.

While addressing a business forum in Kitale recently, Mr Khaemba said the county government has published the Kitale Municipality Integrated Plan that will help present and future administrations initiate projects to improve the standard of the town.

He said his administration has already rolled out some projects that will help tackle the issue of congestion and traffic jams.

He noted that after completion of the Kitale Bus Park and a business centre, matatu and bodaboda operators currently working on the roadside will have a new place to operate from saying the move will assist in opening up the town.

BUSINESS CENTRE

“We decided to construct a business centre and a bus park because we noticed that public service vehicles were operating from the roadside, altering the movement of other road users,” the governor said.

“We hope that after completion of these two projects, we shall be able to relocate hawkers and other businesses to the facilities.”

He said this will open up the town to new opportunities as the gridlock has destroyed the operations of many traders.

Khaemba further said the county has also acquired 159 acres of land from the Prison Service that will be used for expansion of Kitale town, and construction of an open-air market that will accommodate 15,000 traders.

“We want to thank the government for relocating the Kitale Annex Prison. Its location inside the municipality was blocking the development of the town,” he said.

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