Empty parking lots, closed businesses, deserted restaurants and unmotivated one or two workers describes the lost glory of a once vibrant small town.
On a normal day, Mtito Andei one of the biggest stop over points for vehicles heading to or from Mombasa. Good food, classic music, amazing people and the night life incomparable when the night workers rise to life.
Long truck drivers knew so well of what the night was when the town sprung back to life at around 9pm. The glory is no more, the town now defunct and what remains is an allure of a ghost town.
Along the highway, heavy trucks are the sight to behold. No busses ferrying people to Swahili land or out of it.The restaurants which would boast of hundreds of incoming passengers eager to partake food and leave in good time does not resemble itself.
Seats toppled up on the tables, empty lanes where normally men and women would struggle, raising their hands and necks to get the attention of the unyielding cashier.
Washrooms are the go-to area, such long journeys make one run to and from the lavatories. Keen eyed janitors watching how you step on the wet surface areas clearly highlighted cleaning in progress, but still they let you have your way cursing beneath their breaths heavy words that will never see the light of day.
Such is a long-gone story since the Covid-19 pandemic came knocking into the country. Men and women who depended on the income derived from passengers busses plying Mombasa- Nairobi route have been forced to close down shops as others have either lost their jobs or forced to take unpaid leave.
According to one of waiters at the empty Mtito hotel, business went down completely and now they can only hide in memories of what was once a glory hotel.
“When the government closed down movement in and out of Mombasa and Nairobi counties, Mtito Andei was the first stop to be highly affected. This joint depends on the passengers who stop here for a rest before proceeding with their journey.”
Opposite the hotel, lies National oil filling station. The two attendants on duty are in a happy mood,chatting for there is nothing better to do during this Covid-19 pandemic period.
It is said when people do not speak, they die one piece at a time. As the pandemic bottles up everyone in their houses, serving a little chat outside the house does not hurt.
In a span of twenty minutes only one personal vehicle shows up at the station. An unwilling attendant slowly rises to serve this miraculous customer.
The owner of the filling station who does not want to reveal his identity says that the workers who are now at home are also scared of working during this period.
“The few passengers who pass here ask for services but we are scared since we have been made aware that Mombasa and Nairobi have reported the highest cases. This route serves the two counties majorly which means that we can be under threat if we continue serving them.”
At the exit end of the hotel sits structures that would depict a market existed. Now, only one curio shop remains open.
Solomon Mumbua the owner of the curio shops has the same tale.
“For the last three months business has been on the decline. What keeps me coming back is that the little I get from here I use it to feed myself and my family. Trade used to flourish along this road at night but now with curfew I have to go home at that time when ideally my business should be coming to life,” laments Mumbua.
“It would be best when the country is opened up because there is no business here. The number of trucks plying this route has also reduced,” he further adds.
On 6 June the country had anticipated that President Uhuru Kenyatta would open up the country by removing movement cessations in affected counties and doing away with the curfew restrictions.
Instead the government extended the cessation of movement into and out of the affected counties by 30 days.
“Truth be told, if we had not taken the stringent measures we did in March, the rate of infections would have peaked to 800,000 people by July 30, 2020. And if one infected person has potential to infect two people, this number would have hit 2.4 million people in 21 days,” said Uhuru.
The President further added that, “because of this and fully cognisant of the irreducible minimum given by our experts, and in keeping with the advice of the National Security Council; I hereby direct and order that due to the increase in patterns of infections, the cessation of movement into and out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area, Mombasa and Mandera be further extended by 30 days.”
For business men and women along Mtito Andei, the next 27 days will remain gloom days as market spaces remain infested with dirt.
“Even if the pandemic ended today, it will still be hard for the hotel and this station to recover because I know the government will want us to get clearance certificates to show compliance with Covid-19 measures. It will take time before we recover, “says the disheartened manager at Mtito Andei National Oil filling station.
Even as the pandemic renders the young town inactive other battles are being fought at the administration level of the ghost town.
Taita Taveta Governor Granton Samboja has been piling pressure on leaders of Kwale and Makueni counties over two disputed towns which all three counties lay claim to.
Samboja believes parts of Kwale and Makueni including Mtito Andei towns, belong to Taita Taveta and were illegally hived off.
Mackinnon Town and Mtito Andei the two disputed town that fall on the Mombasa-Nairobi Highway are lucrative for revenue potential.
However, Samboja’s declaration drew sharp reactions from Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior who said the statement by Taita Taveta Finance CEC Andrew Kubo on Mtito Andei is a direct provocation on the county and residents of Makueni.
Mtito Andei derived from the Kamba term mutitu wa ndei which means forest of vultures came to life in 1800s.
The town was a lucrative barter trade station for long-distance traders for Kambas and Arabs who would exchange items like ivory.
Around 1890s, the Kenya-Uganda railway builders designated Mtito Andei as a railway construction hub and later upgraded it into a railway station.
Later on, mineral prospectors descended on the region in search for minerals. The discovery of asbestos was a big boost for the town.
The town was growing but the asbestos was slowly extending its harmful effects to the residents.Just like the wind, asbestos hullaballoo went and hello Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
The SGR train track has resulted to the number of buses stopping in the town dropping significantly.While land entitlement battles stare at the town, Makueni county wants to strike another blow.
The Makueni County 2019-2020 Finance Bill now proposes to move Mtito Andei from Zone A to Zone B. Due to the slow economy of the town the proposed bill will place it at a lower tax zone in urban classification.
Different stakeholders have varying views with some excited on the aspect of paying less tax while others feel the downgrading will condemn the town to underdevelopment.
As the only black Volkswagen make with a poster on it written suppliers leaves the parking lot at Mtito Andei, it remains a threat for the once vibrant town now a ghost town on whether it will spring back to life at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.