Innocence of Kitui hides wealth yet to be tapped

The hills that welcome you to Kitui County. [XN Iraki, Standard]

Kitui town is not as far as it sounds, within two and a half hours from Nairobi you are there. Only about 160km and equidistant to Nakuru from Nairobi.

Take the Nairobi Expressway and exit at Mlolongo, then continue on the dual carriage road to Machakos town.

Before Masaku, the original name of Machakos, funeral homes seem to stand out, more so near a suburb called Kenya-Israel. Inside the town, coffins are on wholesale! Can death be hidden?

Two hills protect Masaku, one to the south and another to the north. Pass through the gap and head east. Soon you will find yourself in Masii, with a beautiful view of the plains and knolls therein. Why are there no viewpoints to stop and admire this natural beauty, more so after the rains when its green everywhere?

Beyond Masii, terraced hills remind one of Peru’s Machu Picchu. The next small town is Wamunyu, then Katangi and its small dam.

Other towns include Miondoni, Kwa Vonza and Mulutu. Lots of empty, open land with plenty of natural shrubs keeps you company on the way to Kitui town. The whole place is green, one wishes Kenya was always like that.

Signage is a big problem but schools help you get location, beyond Google Maps. Examples include Kailini, Mbaikani and Kaela. Why not use the Canadian example; give the town’s name, its population and when it was founded.

The towns are not that big despite being next to the tarmac road. Is climate a factor in their stunting?

Along the way I saw a bar named Bosnia, another Comrades. In one small market, a public washroom has labels like Aka and Aume - ladies and gentleman in local language. There are fewer churches on this route compared to, say, central Kenya.

After crossing the mighty Athi River with no signage, you find yourself in Kitui town. The logo on county government signboards says, “Rasilimali zetu, maisha bora.” Why is that not in local language?

Some trees with red flowers welcome you to Kitui town. Another river borders the town. I found lots of cleaning taking place on the banks of this river. What’s the name?

Old and new

Kitui did not look big and, like other rural towns, is a mixture of the old and the new. Maybe I was not observant or did not tour the town well enough, I did not see the vibrancy brought by devolution that is evident in other towns.

The town does not look young, with old churches and schools. I did not find a ‘cool ‘hotel but loved Cafe Kazuri. Not far away was Deep State cyber cafe.

I did not spend a lot of time in this town, I just wanted to boast that I have been to Kitui. Where is the  town’s ‘Muthaiga’? And do I look like a Kituian, everyone talked to me in the local language!

My destination was offroad, a small town called Mangina on the outskirts. The road was sandy and it seems rain is not a problem. Very red roofs are popular. Brick making is popular too. Big conspicuous houses are rare but I noted a sprinkle of some elegant mansions.

The area around Kitui town looks better climatically. And there are good efforts to plant trees. I loved the innocence of the countryside. 

Kunda Kindu bar and restaurant near Mangina was closed. Even on a Saturday and end month? Kunda kindu means drink something.

This region is conservative beyond innocent. Women wear shukas to functions. I was attending a funeral, and I noted lunch is taken before the ceremony. Humour by the MC made death lose its sting.

Around Kitui, letter ‘I’ suddenly gained prominence. Names like Isika, Itoleka, Ithiani, Itangini, Ithookwe...I felt at home as Iraki.

This visit, my first in the county, was enlightening. I always wonder why we visit other countries and not other counties. Perhaps they don’t entice us to visit. What do tourism departments in counties do?

Kenya is diverse in landscape but we rarely appreciate. Counties rarely market their diversity; too used to them. What would attract us to Kitui? Though we all know of Chief Kivoi, I saw no evidence of his presence in Kitui. I expected something like “Welcome to the home of Chief Kivoi”.

Don’t take offence; even witchcraft can be a crowd puller and money minter. One of my final acts in Kitui was carrying some soil sample for analysis. I earlier got another sample from Gaturi, Muranga, also associated with witchcraft.

I want to demonstrate that witchcraft is a ‘patent’ used by blacksmiths to protect their trade. Stay tuned. I will return to Kitui and explore its hinterland and learn the language. What is ‘unyaa’?

As I left Kitui in the late afternoon, a few questions went through my mind. This place has not leaped economically after 60 years of independence. Trickle-down economics does not seem to have worked. Would bottom-up work?

What would we require to make Kitui the Las Vegas of Kenya? It’s near a big river like Colorado and it’s semi-arid. Tourism could be a big industry; it’s near Nairobi. I loved the small tortoise I saw crossing the road near Mangina - I hope it was not a bad omen.

What else would Kitui bank on to spur its economic growth? The big rivers can spur agriculture, I saw some tomato harvest. Kitui is strategically located, halfway to Kenya’s deep east.

Kitui is a sleeping giant. Would investors from the rest of Kenya and the world wake her up? I shall return to see what economic opportunities grace this county. I can help actualise rasilimali zetu, maisha bora.


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