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Why Murang’a hub is losing investors

By Mwangi Muiruri | April 24th 2020
Abandoned building that used to house Barclays Bank in Maragua town. [File, Standard)

Maragua, a town that once held so much promise, is in decline.

Only 75km north of Nairobi, the municipality was ranked only second to Murang’a town in importance to the county’s administrative planning. It has now been edged out by new kids on the block such as Kiria-ini, Kangema and Kangari.

The town’s wayward ways seem to have finally choked the life out of it, with new investors now shying away.

Rampant crime - from petty burglaries to violent robbery and kidnapping - widespread substance abuse and lack of key amenities have all played a part in degrading Maragua, despite a huge cashflow from businesses.

The area’s chamber of commerce estimates that between Sh20 million and Sh65 million changes hands daily, but crime has denied the residents the services of the mainstream banks and they mostly rely on local savings and credit societies.

Former Maragua MP Elias Mbau admits that the area is notorious for crime, with even police officers involved.

“In my tenure, some officers attached to Maragua and Gakoigo police stations were implicated in criminal activities and when I pushed for them to be kicked out of the area, the town would get a temporary reprieve until the network regrouped again,” he told Home & Away.

The town’s Central Business District is dominated by bars, lodgings and illicit sex and drug dens are the most profitable activities.

“We have more than 20 bhang sellers whose base is downtown, and chang’aa traders who have strategic dens in Mathare, Rurii and Boarder estates with their managers occupying Soweto estate,” says Joseph Lwanga, chairman of Small and Medium Enterprises Welfare Union in the town.

When coronavirus trade restrictions were introduced and entertainment joints closed, area Deputy County Commissioner Mawira Mawinga - a teetotaler - disguised himself as a customer and ordered a beer so as to effect an arrest after he received complaints that a certain bar was open to revellers.

“Even after I kept on asking from my ground officers about public complaints that the bar was operating, I was being fed lies. I had to show up in the town so as to ascertain who was telling the truth and unfortunately, my officers were lying to me,” he said at Maragua police station.

Current area MP Mary Waithira (Wa Maua) says in addition to getting rid of crime, the town needs proper planning and sewerage infrastructure so as to rediscover investment appeal.

“This town gets flooded when it rains. Landlords do not have any sewerage disposal infrastructure and there is no reliable clean water supply. It is a town where tenants are seen fetching water from all manner of risky water sources in the bush,” she says, challenging the county government to address the issue.

Mr Mbau says the town’s landlords also need to embrace modern buildings so as to give the town flexible investments.

“Most of the buildings are old fashioned and were designed either to be let to shopkeepers or residential tenants. Investors who wish to engage in other businesses have to redesign the buildings at their own cost, hence turning them off,” he says.

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