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Tharaka Nithi County plans to grow small town into a city

By Ferdinand Mwongela | November 22nd 2018
Impressions of the planned look for Tharaka Nithi County Headquarters, Kathwana

What is a county to do when its headquarters is a little more than a village market centre?

This is the situation Tharaka Nithi found itself when Kathwana was picked to be the seat of the county government.

Now, the county has seized the opportunity to plan Kathwana from scratch, free from the encumbrances that come with an already developed urban centre.

“Other places would have a problem with what to do with existing institutions and developments,” says Tharaka Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki.

Until earlier this year, county operations at Kathwana were run from temporary mabati structures.

Njuki says the Kathwana Spatial Plan developed by the University of Nairobi (UoN) will guide the town’s growth with the “projection being being not only an administrative centre but also a city.”

So optimistic is Njuki of this plan that in his interview with Home & Away, he refers to the upcoming Kathwana as a city.

The plan was developed for Sh8 million, only a quarter of the lowest quote the Governor says they got from a private firm of Sh35 million.

While the choice of Kathwana as county headquarters was not without controversy, Njuki says it was influenced by several factors, among them room for expansion, a favourable climate and proximity to the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor.

Future vision

“We do not want to end up where some cities are today, including Nairobi,” says the Tharaka Nithi Governor.

Kathwana Municipality spans a radius of between 10 and 15 kilometres, but there is the fear that where it borders Embu County, the Tharaka Nithi County Governmnet might have a challenge enforcing their plan.

“The challenge is how to control development acroos the border to avoid a scenario where where there is a good plan in Kathwana but across the river (boundary between the two counties) is a slum.... Cities disobey administrative boundaries,” he says.

Njuki says they have written to the Embu Governor and agreed to have a conversation around this.

“This is a unique situation, it has to go to the county aseembly, we’ll have to show them what benefits are there for the people of Embu,” he says.

But what about those who already have small pieces of land, or have already developed their land?

“We are not giving permits for further development unless it conforms with the plan,” says Njuki. “The plan has gone through public participation and community has approved (it),” he adds.

“Even though the UoN told us (the plan) is going to take care of us for 50 to 100 years, in my opinion, even 200 years to come there will be no need to re-plan Kathwana,” says Njuki.

Before the planning, Njuki says, an acre of land in Kathwana was going for between Sh300,000 and Sh400,000, today it is Sh1 million, in less than one year.

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