Naivasha’s changing fortunes
| Aug 23rd 2012 | 6 min read
Naivasha has had its fair share of bad history. But now it appears to have everything in its favour. The highway, lake, land and geothermal exploits make it a potential nerve centre for the entire county come the devolved governance, writes PETER MUIRURI
Until a few years ago, not many gave a hoot to the economic prospects of Naivasha, a town that was always in the news for all the wrong reasons. Murders, rapes and other forms of bizarre behaviour had tainted Naivasha, the first frontier to the expansive Rift Valley.
To others, this was no more than a popular stop over and a transit point for goods and people, a place to get some refreshments before heading farther upcountry.
The tide, however, seems to have changed and the property within the town and its surroundings has become one of the most sought after by investors.
A number of industrialists have their eyes trained on Naivasha, chief among them Tabitha Karanja, the managing director of Keroche Breweries.
“Naivasha provides a conducive environment for a good industry to thrive. It has all the ingredients we need for a large scale industry — land, water and power. In addition, Naivasha is less crowded than the city where a lot of man hours are wasted on traffic while the Nairobi-Nakuru highway provides the perfect conduit for finished goods,” says Karanja whose beer manufacturing firm sits on 30 acres.
According to her, the presence of such large industries has increased the value of property within Naivasha.
Agriculture too, seems to have taken Naivasha by storm. Wheat, pyrethrum, maize, potatoes, grapes, onions, cabbages and carrots thrive on the volcanic soils around Naivasha.
However, the most vibrant and fast growing ventures are the flower and horticultural farms carried out by multinationals along the shores of Lake Naivasha. Employing up to 60,000 workers, these farms draw water from the lake, sometimes resulting in conflicts with residents and environmentalists alike.
In an earlier interview with this writer, area Member of Parliament John Mututho intimated that Naivasha alone had the potential of turning the entire Nakuru County into one of the richest counties in the country.
“There are few areas in Kenya that combine what Naivasha has. We have the land, the lake, a highway and a railway line, and we have the power (geothermal). What else would a county need to develop?” opines Mututho adding that the full potential of Naivasha will be unlocked when the county governments become fully operational and locals get to have a say on the utilisation of resources.
The power incentive alone, according to the MP, is key to attracting investors to Naivasha, many of who may have been reluctant owing to high-energy costs.
“For one, Naivasha and the surrounding areas are going to benefit greatly from the increased output of geothermal power that abounds in the vicinity. This will lower energy costs and make Naivasha a top investment destination,” says Mututho.
Naivasha will be among the beneficiaries of the recent announcement by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Director General Kaburu Mwirichia that invited private firms and county governments to seek licences and distribute electricity generated within their jurisdiction.
However, it is the recent rush to procure space for large property development that seems to catapult Naivasha into the big league in real estate. The area boasts of some of the most elaborate holiday homes in Kenya.
For example, the Great Rift Valley Lodge private cottages hinge their exclusiveness to the unique ecosystem that is a haven for nature enthusiasts with hillsides full of indigenous plants that attract an assortment of birds, making bird watching from the comfort of a private balcony fun.
The homes are perched on one of the most splendid views — Eburru Escarpment — with price tags ranging from Sh30-40 million. Owned by who-is-who in Kenya’s political and corporate world, the homes, just like other similar developments, are weaved around an 18-hole golf course.
Breaking ground a couple of weeks ago is the multi-billion shillings Longonot Gate Development Limited project that will sit on 2,400 acres and is expected to house at least 1,500 country homes.
The project will be a gated satellite community with an 18-hole world class golf course, a man-made lake to support water sports, a hotel and conference centre, university and a shopping mall among other social amenities.
According to the developers, the project will contribute to the national economy a total investment of about Sh85 billion over the next ten years accruing from the residential, commercial, leisure and social facilities. The project is expected to lead Naivasha region to economic growth by creating 5,000 job opportunities.
“This will create a huge economic growth impact in the county and help nurture Naivasha as a tourist and getaway destination. This would be the most elaborate and integrated resort city under construction in East Africa,” said the developers in a press release following the launch.
The demand for holiday homes around Naivasha is rising by the day such that many upcoming projects are being snapped up through off plan buying.
Renie Cork, managing director of Karengata Property Managers and the sales agents for Osotua Villas in Naivasha, says the demand for a piece of Naivasha is rising by the day with the number of those who can afford the high prices also increasing.
She says: “The demand is so high that most of our property was bought off plan even before the launch. We only had three homes to sell during the launch in October last year.”
But why is the hitherto forlorn and dry Naivasha been up for grabs?
For one, large-scale developers can procure hundreds and sometimes thousands of acres of land in Naivasha with much ease compared to the big cities where land is becoming scarce by the day. In addition, there are minimal legal hurdles to overcome, unlike in major urban centres where acquiring land may present a number of encumbrances. Yet another big appeal is Naivasha’s close proximity to Nairobi, a factor that many business minded persons consider.
“Naivasha is calmer than Nairobi and has less traffic too. A homeowner can enjoy the confines of his holiday home for a weekend and still go to work in Nairobi without the tiredness that accompanies long drives,” argues Renie.
Currently, Naivasha has gained a reputation as the most preferred retreat for Nairobi residents looking for peace and tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Some of the main attractions that draw visitors to Naivasha is the majestic 11,000 feet dormant volcano, Mt. Longonot, Hells Gate National Park, and of course Lake Naivasha, an ornithological spectacle boasting of over 400 bird species.
Indeed, the tourism industry has seen Naivasha join the big league in terms of holiday resort developments. Enashipai Resort Lodge, Lake Naivasha Spa Lodge, Chui Lodge and Malewa Wildlife Lodge are among the big names in the local hospitality circuit.
Aberdare National Park is an hour’s drive from the town while Lake Nakuru; with its world famous flamingoes is less than an hour away from Naivasha.
Mututho says that the improved infrastructure within Naivasha will attract more developers and homeowners to the area that has the potential of playing a big role in the realisation of Kenya’s development strategy — Vision 2030.
Summing it up he says: “Naivasha is an economic powerhouse. For that we need more investors. For investors to come we need to provide an enabling business environment. That is why the government is investing heavily in geothermal power, fresh water supply and investigating ways of producing clean and cheap farm produce.”
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