Residents of Kitui and Makueni counties are about to realise a dream they have had for more than 50 years.
A key road that links the two counties is nearing completion, bringing the much-valued tarmac to a region that has longed for modern infrastructure since the country’s independence in 1963.
Residents expect the tarmac to light up the economies of the areas that it snakes through, and development is already being seen as some once idle towns have now sprung to life.
The 192-kilometre project under the Kenya National Highways Authority begins at the junction with the Nairobi–Mombasa road near Kibwezi town in Makueni County and runs in a northward direction via Ikutha, Mutomo, Kitui, Kabati and ends at Migwani.
President Uhuru Kenyatta commissioned the Sh18.4 billion project in 2016, burying the myth that the area was jinxed regarding development.
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The contract for the 192-kilometre project was awarded to Sinohydro Corporation, the firm that built Thika Road eight years ago.
Funded largely by the China Exim Bank and the Kenyan government, the road was expected to end by February 2021 but the project is already 95 per cent complete.
A Vision 2030 project, the Kibwezi-Migwani road will join the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor, creating a link between the country’s coastal areas and the Northern Corridor, and boosting businesses along the route.
Already, passenger and goods vehicles destined for Mombasa and other Coastal towns from Central, Lower Eastern, Upper Eastern and North Eastern regions are using the road.
“We had to travel to Machakos to catch a bus to Mombasa, but now with this road, we can travel to Mombasa one way. Many trucks are opting to use this route to ease congestion on the Machakos route,” says retired chief Antony Wambua, who lives in Mutomo town.
The highway has opened up Kitui South Constituency that did not have an inch of tarmac. With towns like Mutomo strategically situated between Kibwezi and Kitui town, locals are upbeat about the area’s expansion.
“We are already seeing growth in our town despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Mutomo has cement, limestone and we mine rubies,” Mr Wambua tells Home & Away.
“With the connection to other towns that have been provided by this road, we are expecting (Mutomo) to be made the headquarters of Kitui County.”
Benefits brought about by the road are plenty, but nothing beats the rise in land and property value evident even before construction the road is completed.
At Kyandula, a small urban centre that sits between Muangeni and Ikutha, an acre of land has jumped from Sh30,000 before the tarmac to over Sh150,000, says Patrick Mutinda, the chairman of a community caretaker group in the area.
He says people with financial wherewithal are buying land and sinking boreholes to get water for irrigation, now that the road has made access to markets easy.
”Many are poised to go into flower and vegetable farming by irrigation,” says Mr Mutinda.
Mutomo town has seen a boom in land and property prices.
A businessman in the town, Wambua Musau, says plots measuring 100 by 50 feet outside town that used to cost a paltry Sh150,000 are now at Sh300,000 or more.
“A good road is indeed wealth. I never imagined that I would live to see this,” he says.
The manager of Sunday Real Estate Company in Mutomo, Chris Mwaniki, says land prices in the town have shot with a 100 by 50 feet piece going for Sh1 million, up from Sh450,000 two years ago.
“The impact of this road in the real estate industry is huge. In Mutomo town, residential and commercial property owners are experiencing a boost. More people are moving into the town, creating the demand for more housing,” he says.
Kitui South is home to rich limestone, tin and coal deposits that will become more easily accessible and exploitable courtesy of the road.
The availability of almost all raw materials that are used in construction has fueled the boom in the area, with developers taking advantage of the increased demand for housing.
“Construction in Kitui South is relatively cheaper compared to other areas. We have sand and cement here, reducing the cost of transportation and making it easy for investors to construct properties in this area, with the newly constructed road helping in pushing the demand curve high” says Mr Mwaniki.
All along the road, once dusty and stunted markets such as Ikanga, Kisasi, Chuluni and Kabati are expanding with new hotels, butcheries, garages, petrol stations and lodges dotting the area.
For Mzee Solomon Nguthi, who was a personal bodyguard to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and a resident of Matinyani location, the tarmacking of the road is a dream come true.
He can hardly believe that today it takes an hour or less to travel the 70 kilometres to Kitui town at Sh80, from the Sh150 fare they used to pay after a harrowing four hours or more depending on the weather.