A battered plaque on vast land in Mumias town is a constant reminder to locals of the multi-million Nabongo Institute of Sugar Technology that never was.
In December 2008, ODM leader Raila Odinga unveiled the plaque for the construction of the institute on the 10-acre land donated by the defunct Mumias Municipal Council.
Local leaders and residents interviewed spoke of crashed hopes following delay of the project.
“As a councillor, I was the town planning committee chairman of Mumias Town Council. We were receptive to the idea of the institute and even hastened plans to allocate the project a parcel of land,” said Boniface Manda, a former civic leader.
The project had the full backing of Mumias town Mayor Patrick Sakwa.
Manda, who represented Matawa ward, says locals were optimistic that the institute would turn around their fortunes. “It would have offered business opportunities, employment and more so contributed to enhanced cane husbandry,” he said.
“Our people are still aggrieved to date; they feel they were shortchanged. We call on the government to consider the project and if possible earmark funds for it. We still have acres of public land lying fallow where the college can be established,” he added.
Florence Maloba, a resident, said failure to construct the institute was a blow to the region and blamed this on bad politics and poor planning.
“There was no political goodwill right from the beginning. We have those who were opposed to the project on political grounds.”
Francis Lukokho regretted that the delay to start the project has denied the region access to college education.
“I had a son who was ready to join the institute. It would have been cheap for me because the college was located five kilometres from my home,” said Lukokho.
Locals noted that the project would have offered opportunities not just for their children, but also for businessmen. Investors would have put up rental houses for lecturers and hostels for students while others would have invested in eateries.
Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali, who was pushing for the construction of the college, said it was projected to cost Sh300 million.
Washiali, who was then Mumias MP, said he had earmarked Sh10 million from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to kickstart the project. “However, funds set aside for the project were diverted to put up Bondo University. I sought clarification from then Higher Education Cabinet Minister Sally Kosgey, who affirmed that the funds had been put into a different project,” he told The Standard yesterday.
“We didn’t see the need to invest the Sh10 million CDF money into the project as it was a drop in the ocean,” argued the former National Assembly chief whip.
He noted that the institute would have helped locals acquire knowledge in sugar technology and get fully involved in the running of Mumias Sugar Company.
“I came up with the idea after it occurred to me that the factory was scouting for people with knowledge in sugar technology from outside Western. Our people would have had a chance to be trained near home and land lucrative jobs at the factory. I believe the sugar firm would still be afloat today if locals had acquired knowledge and were given a chance to manage the factory,” Washiali said.
Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology expected to have the first batch of 700 students enroll for sugar technology and related courses at the institute.
Washiali said all procedures to register the institute with the Ministry of Education had been observed.
“The project was a joint initiative of various stakeholders, including CDF, Kenya Sugar Board, Kenya Sugar Research Foundation and Masinde Muliro University,” he said.
Mumias West MP Johnson Naicca, in whose constituency the project site lies, argued that it was not a viable venture then. “I didn’t follow up the project because my focus was on the revival of Mumias Sugar Company and welfare of the farmers. These were more critical and realistic,” Naicca told The Standard on phone.
He disclosed that the site where the institute was to be set up has been identified for expansion of Mumias town. “The World Bank is funding a multi-million town modernisation project around the area earlier mapped for the institute,” said the legislator.
The executive for Trade and Industrialisation, Alfred Matianyi, said the county government was not aware about plans to set up the institute on the land mapped out for the expansion of the municipality.
So far, roads have been constructed on the said land by the county government under the auspices of the World Bank.
Kakamega Deputy Governor Philip Kutima presided over the groundbreaking of the Sh17 million waste treatment project on the site last month.
The County Water and Sanitation Corporation CEO Abdikadir Mohammed indicated that the facility will guarantee residents proper hygiene and sanitation.