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Villages cut off after colonial bridge built to fight the Mau Mau collapses

CENTRAL
By Lydiah Nyawira | April 23rd 2020

A woman crossing a caved bridge at Chania river in Nyeri County on April 17, 2020. The bridge which collapsed in February this year is yet to be repaired, endangering lives of locals. It connects Nyeri town and Mathira constituency. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The collapse of a bridge constructed in the colonial era has cut off scores of villagers from local markets and farms.

The bridge, at the border between Nyeri Town and Mathira constituencies, collapsed as a heavy truck from a Chinese construction firm was crossing it.

The bridge buckled under the weight of the truck, plunging the vehicle into the river. The truck driver was saved from drowning by a farmer working in a nearby farm.

The bridge was put up in the 1950s by the British at the height of the Mau Mau war for independence.

Long after independence, the metallic bridge has been a lifeline for villagers who often trade with each other and farm on both sides of the river.

It also served as a shortcut to transport building materials from the quarries at Mikundi in Mathira and Kirichu village in Nyeri town. The quarries have now been cut off.

Villagers are risking their lives daily trying to cross the river. Some are still using the collapsed bridge, which hangs precariously halfway submerged in the river while others attempt to wade across.

The economy of the entire village has been hurt by the collapse of the bridge.

Gichohi Macharia, a resident of Mikundi village, said fares to and from Kirichu market have tripled, locking out many villagers from markets.

“We have relatives and businesses on either side of the river; most of us now have to travel to Kirichu market through Chaka or Marua towns, which is almost an hour away,” said Macharia.

Boda Boda riders are now charging as high as Sh300 for a trip to the market instead of Sh50.

Villagers say the collapse of the bridge has made life unbearable.

“We rely on each other as neighbours; they need firewood and food in Mikundi village while the villagers in Kirichu need produce for their market,” he explained. Others who cannot afford to use a longer route to the market risk life and limb to balance their way across the collapsed bridge.

Rahab Wanjiru has been making the trip across the bridge every day in search of vegetables to sell at her stall.

She still uses the collapsed bridge, carefully holding on to the rails with the sack of spinach on her back, knowing that a wrong step would send her plunging into the cold waters of the Sagana River.

“I do not have a choice. I have to cross to get stock for my stall or my family will go hungry. We hope they will put up a footbridge because many elderly women cannot make it across,” she said.

County executive for infrastructure Muthui Kariuki said the county was tendering for the reconstruction of the bridge but had reached out to a contractor to set up an emergency footbridge.

“Constructing a bridge is not a straightforward process, but we shall have the contractor on site this week; as soon as the tendering process is complete we will begin reconstruction,” Kariuki said.

The bridge has a rich history.

It was constructed by the British to help soldiers cross to Kirichu village from their camp in Gatuanyaga village in Mathira Constituency at the height of the Mau Mau war in the 1950s.

Villagers called it Iriuko ria Johnnie (A crossing point for white soldiers), but long before it was constructed the place where it stood was a watering and bathing point for locals.

“This is the safest place to cross; it is the point where rivers Sagana, Thegu and Nairobi converge and was a public watering spot where women would fetch water and wash their clothes while boys swam and bathed,” said Mathenge wa Iregi, a village elder.

However, during the war for independence, the British soldiers are reported to have suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Mau Mau at the spot, as the freedom fighters would lay ambush and disappear into the forest.

It was then that the bridge was put up.

“It provided the British soldiers with  a shortcut between the village and the forest. It took them to Mau Mau hideouts in the forest,” said Wa Iregi.

 

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