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The changing skyline of Ol' Kalou town after devolution

 

An aerial view of Ol Kalou town, Nyandarua County. [James Munyeki, Standard]

For a long time, Ol Kalou town, now Nyandarua County headquarters, was a village shopping centre that went quiet at 7pm.

Most buildings were old and dilapidated, making the town dull and unattractive to investors. The tallest building was only two floors. The town lacked essential facilities such as electricity, sewage plant and good roads, forcing traders to close business as early as 7pm.

Crime was high at night, especially along the streets of sprawling Huruma slums. But in 2013, when the new county headquarters were moved from Nyahururu, life in the town changed.

The feeling of “power” started as the county staff now started streaming to the town.

The State in conjunction with the county under Governor Daniel Waithaka then started building roads and putting up streetlights.

But later, in what is believed to be a power struggle in the county, the projects stalled.

Lack of title deeds hindered investors from putting up buildings to host the new members of staff among other residents.

It was believed that most of the plots in the town had double allocation. ”The investors shied away from putting up permanent buildings for fear of their title deeds being revoked later. The town could no longer develop.”

“This forced the new county staff as well as those working at the assembly commute from either Nyahururu, Gilgil or Nakuru,” noted the current chairman of Ol Kalou Municipal Board Mwangi Nyaga.

But two years ago, the new county administration under Governor Francis Kimemia lifted a caveat to some 1,573 plots in Ol Kalou town that had no dispute.

A section of Ol Kalou town in 2018 [James Munyeki, Standard]

The caveat had been in place for over 10 years — a move that saw the town fail to grow.

The landowners were given 24 months to develop them failure to which they would revert to the county.

It was as a result of this move that high-rise buildings sprout up in the town as well as modern hotels and rental houses.

Major banks also put up branches there. “We have seen businesses almost triple in the last two years. This is a true manifestation that a town can grow from dust,” said Mr Mwangi.

Ol Kalou MP David Kiaraho says the State has tarmacked over 40 kilometres of roads within the town and its environs.

“The latest one is that in Huruma slums where everyone thought that it could not be tarmacked. We have also put up streets lights all over the town and people can now do business even at night,” he said.

The county government has also put up footpaths for pedestrians — from the Central Business District (CBD) to the governor’s office.

Drainage system

It is also putting up a footpath from the CBD to JM Kariuki Hospital.

Some of the new buildings coming up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County. This is the 10-storey Tower Sacco building in the CBD [James Munyeki, Standard]

“This town has lagged in terms of development. It is now time we developed it. We cannot have a county headquarter where there are no services and that is why we have reached this decision,” says Mr Kimemia.

He said the county received over Sh145 million from the World Bank to develop the town. “We will use the funds to construct roads, drainage system and sewerage so that it can be seen as a business hub for Nyandarua. The town had been neglected in the past, and it is now time we developed it.”

Kimemia says his administration will continue to fund Ol’kalou Municipality’s basic infrastructure to support accelerated growth and urbanisation.

Among the new projects in the town is the new market while a modern stadium is almost complete.

For recreational purposes, an arboretum has been established and is being enhanced to make it a modern tourist attraction site.

The county government is tarmacking some 3.5 kilometres of roads.

There is also continued cabro works to improve the mobility and image of the town. The establishment of a public cemetery is underway to ensure locals have a decent place to bury their loved ones.

The county boss said the town will soon boast of a cabro plant that will offer job opportunities to the youth and supply raw materials to the ongoing construction works.

The completion of a potato processing plant at Agrihub will transform the town and make it more attractive to potato farmers from other parts of the country.

The county is also putting up a new inpatient complex with 500-bed capacity that will elevate the JM Hospital to a Level six facility.

For proper disposal of domestic and industrial waste, a new sewer system is being built in conjunction with the national government.

These facilities and infrastructural developments have seen land prices in Ol’ Kalou town double — making it one of the fastest-growing urban centres in the country.

“You could previously get a plot within the town at Sh500,000 but now it is over Sh1 million. Things have now changed and we are now witnessing new investors,” said John Githinji of Jonnie Max Land Buying Company.

Mr Githinji said the new investors from Nakuru and Nairobi are now streaming to buy land in the area. “Those plot owners who do not have the capacity to develop them are smiling to the bank,” noted Githinji.