Mt Kenya's new look and bright future as Uhuru races to leave a lasting impression

Engineers at the Thiba dam doing final touches as the project that has cost Sh7.8 billion gets completed. [Muriithi Mugo, Standard]

For the last decade, Central Kenya has seen a significant change in the infrastructure development projects initiated and completed by the Government. During the tenure of President Uhuru Kenyatta, the region has furiously staked its claim as one region “marginalised from within” and whose share of national revenue is wanting.

But the attention it has been receiving from this grumbling, a multi-billion shillings infrastructure development initiated in the last five years, is slowly transforming the region’s outlook and prospects of the future. The most visible investment is the ongoing construction of the Dual Carriageway from Kenol to Marua which cuts across four counties-Kiambu, Muranga, Kirinyaga, and Nyeri- and is estimated to cost Sh30 billion.

The dualling of the 84km stretch of the road led to traffic snarl-ups during the festive season while also ushering in business opportunities for locals. At Hohwe Dam in Nyeri County, a temporary market has popped up since September 2021, when construction on the stretch picked up. Arrow roots are the main produce at the market with sellers travelling from as far as Nanyuki and Meru towns to sell their produce by the roadside.

Samuel Mwangi has been making a tidy profit from selling along the highway, taking home between Sh2,000 and Sh3,000 a day in profits.

“Two years ago, I was desperate, unemployed and suicidal. I came to this dam and jumped in hoping to kill myself. I survived but was taken to court for attempted suicide and jailed for one year,” he said.

When he returned home to Hohwe he found the road expansion had started and started selling arrowroots from the nearby farms and now his life has changed.

“I am so happy that the roads are expanding, especially in this section. I have hope for the future because I can now make a livelihood while still at home. The buyers are coming to me,” Mwangi observed.

Mary Mwaniki has been selling fruits at the same market since she lost her job during the Covid-19 pandemic. She too has found a lifeline along the Marua- Kenol dual carriageway.

“I lost my job in Nakuru and I moved back home. Now I can be able to pay for my children’s school fees comfortably by selling fruits at this market. I am very happy with the road,” she stated.

Mwangi and Mwaniki’s experiences mirror the hopes and challenges residents faced in previous years.
While the traders along the highway celebrate their newfound fortune, construction picks up the fate of remains buried in one of the oldest public cemeteries in Karatina Town. The only public cemetery in Karatina had to be closed after it was declared full years ago.

Geoffrey Kinyua insists that he buried his wife at the cemetery in 1993, with the help of his neighbours and he wants the Government to assist him to find another resting place for her if the road will be done on the site.

“I did not have any land to bury my wife when she died, so my neighbours helped me to bury her here,” he said.

While Kinyua is certain his wife is buried at the graveyard, he cannot pinpoint her exact grave because all the graves are unmarked. The investment in road networks in the region also includes the Mau Mau Roads at a cost of Sh30 billion, a road traversing the Aberdare’s Tea growing zones with close to 540Km across four counties; Kiambu, Muranga, Nyandarua and Nyeri counties.

The 84-kilometre long Nyeri-Marwa dual carriage road. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

The impact of the roads is both historical and economic, a development that residents of Karunaini village in Tetu Constituency have been demanding for years.

The Mau Mau roads will upgrade the roads that were used during the struggle for independence by the freedom fighters and is therefore befitting that the network will pass by where the late Dedan Kimathi was captured. The location where the Mau Mau hero Kimathi was shot and captured 61 years ago was gazetted in 2001 as a national monument and since then every February 18, leaders and pilgrims meet to remember his life.

Wangombe Nduhiu, a resident of Kimathi Ward said the Ihururu-Karunaini road leading to the site should be part of the Mau Mau roads as a befitting tribute.

“These roads must have a positive impact on this shrine,” he added.

Central Kenya has also benefited extensively from the revival of train services which are expected to revive industries that collapsed in the region. Rehabilitation of the decades-old 240km meter-gauge railway line started in January 2021, boosting the transportation of cargo and passengers.

Rehabilitation was done at a cost of Sh1.8 billion. Aside from transport, the Government has also completed Mega dams at Thiba in Kirinyaga County and Kariminu dam in Gatundu North. Thiba dam is expected to boost rice production in the Mwea Irrigation Scheme, allowing for an additional 10,000 acres to be cultivated. Rice farmer Mercy Gakii said the rice paddies had been affected by dry seasons when water was inadequate for farming.

“When the rains delayed, I would be forced to delay planting because I did not want to experience losses, but we expect we shall have enough water to farm three times a year,” she observed.

The region has also witnessed investment in the health sector with the completion of the Kenya National Hospital Othaya Annex which is a Level VI facility that receives referrals from the region.
Central Region Economic Bloc CEO Ndirangu Gachunia said the national government’s infrastructure investment had increased the economic viability of the region. Gachunia noted hospitals such as Othaya KNH, the roads networks, combined with the railway and expanded markets had made land prices around the facilities rise in the last few years.

“The demand for accommodation has gone up in towns such as Othaya, Chaka, Karatina and along with the highway rent charges have doubled while, land prices have also tripled as well,” Gachunia noted.

The building of the Chaka Market will only accommodate 2,500 traders, and the Karatina Market has offered traders the opportunity to carry out business in a safe and clean environment.

“Politics aside, these investments in the core infrastructure of the region in this agriculturally rich region will encourage the growth of these economies,” he explained.

A resident, Wambugu Nyamu, also voiced his expectations on the impact of the infrastructure in the region.

“Central Kenya now has accessible road network which will allow farmers to reach their markets and ensure ease of doing business within the counties, offering opportunities for investment in value addition, manufacturing and agriculture,” he said.

He observed the infrastructure would benefit the region for generations and support the economy of the counties for 30 to 40 years.