Standard gauge railway’s mixed bag of goodies for Maungu

To a casual observer plying the busy Nairobi-Mombasa highway, Maungu township is just a sleepy business outpost, with few business activities and a sluggish lifestyle.

The scorching heat and swirling dust might also be unsettling to newcomers and travellers using the busy highway, who stop briefly to refresh before continuing with their journey either to the coastal town of Mombasa or other towns along the way to Nairobi.

However, once you catch up with the rhythm of life here it gradually emerges that there is more to this fast-growing township than one would have thought. The standard gauge railway (SGR) project is giving this sleepy town a lifeline, but is also the source of controversy.


The standard gauge railway has caused a flurry of various activities in places such as this, and for Maungu, the effects depend on which side of the debate you are on. While the town is receiving a much-needed boost, the blasting on Marasi Hill for ballast is a sore point.

Maungu township has been growing fast and trying to catch up with Voi, which is also located near the thoroughfare. “There has been a rapid increase in business activities, especially those related to land after the construction of the standard gauge railway line began,” says Peter Mwalia, a resident and trader.

Mr Mwalia says that plots, which used to go for about Sh500,000 per acre a  few years ago, have now doubled to over Sh1 million as speculators look to cash in on opportunities that have come with the SGR.

According to Mwalia, some of those rushing to acquire plots in Maungu are gemstone dealers who operate in the vast mines of Kasigau and Tsavo West. However, the location of the town has meant that it is also home to wild animals, especially jumbos, who sometimes leave the conservancy during dry seasons in search for water. Controversy has also been raging over plans by the Government to allow the Chinese contractor building the standard gauge railway line to blast the picturesque Marasi Hill near the town to provide ballast for the project.

Following demonstrations in the town organised by the Wildlife Works Organisation, which is opposing the destruction of the rocky hill, the Government and some local leaders who had earlier supported the decision to destroy the hill beat a hasty retreat.

According to Laurian Lenjo, the project’s community relations manager, blasting of Marasi Hill would have had profound environmental and health effects on the residents of Maungu and the nearby water catchment areas. “The blasting of the hill could expose residents to respiratory infections as well as noise pollution,” says Lenjo.