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Real estate boom in Kenya goes to the small towns

By Ferdinand Mwongela | September 8th 2016

For a long time, the focus has been on the major cities and towns when we talk about real estate hotspots. Nairobi came first, then Kisumu and Mombasa caught on. While the advent of devolution has brought with it stories on how land and construction is picking up, I got a first-hand experience in Isiolo last week.

Isiolo is a small town by any standards. It is dwarfed by its neighbour Meru and even Nanyuki has a bigger name. The town started becoming a centre of attention when it was mentioned as one of the hosts of the proposed resort cities in line with the Vision 2030 plan. The others were Kilifi, Lamu and Turkana.

Then there is the construction of the Isiolo International Airport set to be operational in a month, according to the Transport principal secretary Irungu Nyakera. All these conspired to make Isiolo a trade and economic hub in an otherwise humdrum region. The resort city came with its complications and clashes, a story for another day. Today’s story is about Isiolo township and its rapid growth.

A few years ago, little was happening, with construction restricted to a few areas. Today, the town is expanding fast and estates close to the town are growing even faster. Without Sh1 million, buying a 50 by 100 feet plot in Isiolo is a pipedream.

The area around the airport is hot property, this even before water and electricity are fully installed. This growth is pushing people out of Isiolo town to neighbouring smaller shopping centres, opening them up for investment.

This is the story everywhere you look. The story of devolution will be told from many angles, but its effect on economic fortunes of hitherto “forgotten” regions cannot be gainsaid.

Away but related to this growth is the question of planning. Given the terrible example set by the major cities in planning, or lack of it, are counties planning ahead or will planning follow development? This week, we look at how Kigali, Rwanda’s capaital, managed to crack the planning puzzle.

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