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Why Nakuru could the next hotspot for investors

OPINION
By XN Iraki | March 2nd 2021

The West Side Mall in Nakuru town by night. Major international brands such as fashion designer LC Waikiki have set up shop in the town. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Several colonial-era houses, a railway station, a golf course, exotic trees and an old cemetery leave no doubt that Nakuru was once the playground of British settlers before independence. 

A few of their descendants are still around. Like a bowl, the town has a lake in the middle, Menengai to the east, Mau Hills to the west and other hills to the north and south. 

Its warm and humid weather may have attracted the early settlers whose names are inscribed in the neglected Nakuru North cemetery. 

Why do we neglect our graveyards in Africa? Some of them are at Nyahururu where South African Boers are buried. Ever visited the well-manicured Commonwealth war cemeteries? 

Talking to someone who recently moved to Nakuru town, which is on the cusp of becoming a city, they cited several factors for making the move. 

One is warm weather. I know many people who have migrated from the colder Nyahururu to Nakuru. Nairobians rarely shift to Nakuru; they perhaps find it too slow and perhaps boring. 

Nakuru is a regional centre, with county workers from neighbouring counties such as Nyandarua, Kericho, Baringo and Narok living there. Remember, it was a former provincial headquarters. 

Daniel Mwaniki, an investor in Nakuru, noted that large-scale landowners have been subdividing and selling off their land. 

There is plenty of land towards Njoro and Kabarak. And the cost of living in Nakuru is relatively low compared to Nairobi, according to Lillian Njue who used to live there.  

John Kabucho, a certified public accountant, cites the low cost of living, fresh foods, warm weather and the cosmopolitan nature of the town as another incentive for making Nakuru his home. 

Nyanduko Nyamweya adds tourist activities, from Lake Nakuru to the Menengai Crater, Soysambu and the Subukia Shrine. There is also Hell’s Gate National Park, Mt Longonot and historical houses that dot the county, including Lord Egerton Castle and several colonial-era churches. I recall diving into a hot water spa near Kariandusi.  

From these observations, it seems Nakuru could give Mombasa a run for its money as the preferred destination for retirees. Philip Waweru, another resident, observes that the opening up of Nyandarua from Nakuru by the two tarmac roads - the Nakuru-Lanet-Ndundori-Ol Joro orok Road and the Nakuru-Lanet-Ndundori-Ol Kalou Road - adds to the allure of the town. Is this the famous Ndundori where passengers allegedly pour detergent into the river to wash clothes and check the gender of cars?   

There is another surprising explanation for the town’s rapid growth - the 2007-08 post-election violence, which made cities and towns feel safer.

The prices of plots in major and even small towns have been on the rise since this dark chapter in the country’s history. Towns and cities are used to diversity and have better public services, including security.  

What of amenities like hotels, schools, universities, hospitals and shopping malls? Is the military base at Lanet a factor in attracting new migrants to Nakuru just like Gilgil and Nanyuki?

These amenities make you feel like you are in Nairobi or big towns like Mombasa or Kisumu. Brands like KFC, LC Waikiki and Java, among others, have also moved to Nakuru.   

The nostalgia of the once cleanest town in East Africa may be pulling us to Nakuru.

It’s also possible that Nairobi has lost its lustre, and rural folks see Nakuru as the next economic Mecca, which is closer and less competitive. 

Affluent and ambitious individuals from smaller towns near Nakuru are “skimmed” to Nakuru building a self-sustaining cycle. They probably find Nairobi too far, crowded and overly competitive.  Could devolution have aided the growth of Nakuru? It’s one of the biggest counties in terms of population.

As money is devolved, services may improve and attract more Kenyans. If Nakuru can trap the youngsters graduating from its institutions, growth could accelerate.

It can become the 'Silicon Bowl' and shift from agriculture to high tech. After all, economics is about people, through people for the people.  

But I suspect the biggest attraction is the future city status. We are shifting there in anticipation, seeking status and the pride that goes with it.

The other day I overheard at a funeral that there was a special meal was reserved for 'Nairobians'. Shall we soon have a meal for 'Nakuruians' or is it 'Nakurese'?

A civilian airport could raise the stature of Nakuru further, helping one avoid the three-hour drive to the town from the capital city.

Driven by diversity, rich agricultural land, warm weather and a younger population, Nakuru could rival Kisumu and Mombasa in growth, status and pride.

Add the nostalgia of colonialism and provincial headquarters, and the potential city’s future couldn’t be brighter. Finally, driving or walking around Nakuru evokes a feeling of being in a very romantic city. Fact or fiction? Talk to us.

 

- The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi

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