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Ending 47 years of hurt and neglect in Pokot

By | June 17th 2010

By Standard Reporter

The launch of a Sh14 billion cement factory at Sebit on Tuesday, opened a fresh chapter for residents of an area rich in mineral resources, but poor in infrastructure, including roads, health centres, schools and electricity.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga jumped onto an excavator and broke the ground for the site on which the Cemtech Sanghi Group is building a factory, power plant and other amenities in North Pokot district.

Addressing local residents after the ceremony, Kapenguria MP Wilson Litole said the planned factory would end nearly 50 years of hurt and neglect suffered by Pokot residents. Since Kenya attained its independence from Britain in 1963, successive generations of residents merely watched as mining firms excavated stones and minerals.

Among those present at the groundbreaking were Industrialisation Minister Henry Kosgey, his PS John Lonyangapuo, Cemtech directors Alok Sanghi, Kiran Patel and CD Mehta, councillors and representatives of the ministries of Environment and Mineral Resources and Energy, among others.

Investment hurdles

The ceremony also ended four and-a-half years of waiting for Cemtech Sanghi Group director Rajesh Kumar Rawal, who had to fight off opposition from officials in the Ministry of Regional Development Authorities, as well as the powerful Mehta Group to hold on to the exclusive mining rights. PM Raila alluded to the same in his speech, saying that the exclusive limestone mining licence awarded to the Cemtech Group is final, and other firms eyeing the area would have to look elsewhere.

It was also a sweet moment for Industrialisation PS John Lonyangapuo, a local lad, who confessed that at one point growing up, he "never imagined" he would live to see an investment of this magnitude.

To get a perspective of what the investment means, consider this. North Pokot where the factory is based is largely agro-pastoral, but is dogged by food insecurity, cattler rustling and poor road infrastructure.

Distances to water points average five kilometers during periods of low to poor rainfall, while the quality of water is poor. The 17 telephone booths owned by Telkom died a long time ago. Meanwhile, deforestation is on an upward scale, as charcoal and firewood accounts for 88 per cent of fuel used for cooking. The region has just one bank and only four per cent of the population is formally employed.

The construction of the factory, which started yesterday, is expected to open up the area to new investment. Equity and KCB are among the banks said to be studying the possibilities that the new factory will create the need for financial services to serve employees and other traders drawn to the area.

Key Road Damaged

The PM said the Government would rebuild the Kapenguria-Lokichoggio road which passes through the area and is its lifeline, admitting that it was "in a pathetic state".

The road was neglected for the last 15 years, as heavy trucks carrying stones, fluorspar and other minerals from the area to Uganda and Sudan damaged it beyond repair. Industrialisation Minister Henry Kosgey welcomed the investment, and chastised those opposed to it. "The advantage of this factory is that its closest competitor is near Nairobi, so the cement will fetch a good price locally and in Sudan," said Kosgey, and promised the Government’s full support to Cemtech.

Rawal reiterated his promise that the cement group would offer jobs to locals, as well as medical aid and scholarships to bright students up to university. The PM unveiled a plaque announcing the groundbreaking, and planted a tree, before being entertained by traditional dancers donned in colourful garb. He also thanked Rawal for his patience over the long period, before Cemtech’s dream became a reality.

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