In the interior of Laikipia North, a kilometre from Rumuruti town, bare land dotted with shrubs and manyattas paints a picture of an austere life. In the Kandutura settlement area, residents eke out a living from cattle rearing, casual work in the nearby ranches and flower farms.
Kandutura mainly has immigrants from the Maasai, Kikuyu, Turkana and Pokot communities who left their ancestral homes due to political upheavals and other social disruptions and became settled in the area. It is an area one would not associate with homeownership considering the nature of land tenure for residents, some of whom are nomads.
But a wind of change is blowing across Kandutura. It started with a group of 350 people forming a housing cooperative where they save to enable them build houses for members. Unlike most of the housing cooperatives in the country where members make individual monetary contributions, Rumukandu Housing Cooperative members get their money from making and selling interlocking blocks to builders in the area.
The name Rumukandu was coined from Rumuruti and Kandutura, the places where most of the members are drawn. The idea to form the cooperative was birthed from a housing project done by Habitat for Humanity Kenya for poor and vulnerable families in Laikipia County.
Those who missed out on the Habitat project found an alternative way of building their dream houses through the cooperative. "The organisation (Habitat) managed to build modern stone houses for 25 people.
"We thought it was a good idea to start a housing cooperative so that we could buy land and build houses for those who didn't benefit from the housing project," said Samuel Ekiru, a Rumukandu manager. He said most of the members are women, with 50 of them having been trained on brick-making and building using the interlocking blocks.
From the time the group was formed in June last year, the members have saved over Sh1.3 million. The interlocking blocks are made by pressing a mixture of sifted soil (the main raw material), water and cement. "The materials required to make the blocks are readily available in our locality.
"We only buy cement to harden the soil blocks,“ Ekiru said, adding that the cost of cement is manageable as it only makes up three per cent of the blocks. But it has not been all smooth sailing, with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting ongoing projects.
"Some clients pulled out due to the pandemic,” he said. To ease cash flow issues, Ekiru said they are looking for alternative ways of raising cash and are engaging the country government to give them tenders for the supply of the blocks for new and ongoing projects.
"A block goes for between Sh25 and Sh30 depending on the location of the construction site," he said. “Each member has a Sh500 target per month. The members earn from different ventures, but most of them contribute by making blocks." Ekiru said the group is in talks with Laikipia County Government to offer about 50 acres of idle land in Rumuruti to members who do not own land so that they can also benefit from the project.
The National Director for Habitat for Humanity Kenya Ruth Odera said the cooperative will supplement efforts to provide low-cost housing in the country.