BY PASCAL MWANDAMBO
To a casual observer plying the busy Nairobi- Mombasa highway, the Maungu township is just a sleepy business outpost, with little business activities and a sluggish lifestyle.
The scorching heat and the benumbing dust might also be unsettling to new comers and travelers using the busy highway who stop briefly to refresh before continuing with their journey either to the Coastal town of Mombasa or other towns along the way to Nairobi.
However, once one catches up with the rhythm of life here it gradually emerges that there is more to this fast growing township that one would have thought.
Maungu township has been growing so fast and struggling to catch up with Voi which is also located near the thoroughfare.
“There has been a rapid increase in business activities especially those related to land especially after the construction of the standard gauge railway line began,” says Maungu resident Peter Mwalia.
Mwalia says that plots which used to go at about Sh 500,000 per acre have now doubled to over Sh 1 million as speculators continue to rush to Maungu to cash in on the lucrative opportunities that have come with the multibillion railway project.
According to this resident, some of those rushing to acquire plots at Maungu are gemstone dealers who operate in the vast mines in Kasigau area and the neighbouring Tsavo West.
“Guest rooms and bars are also doing booming business especially at night as some of the beneficiaries of the SGR compensation continue to flock to the town from areas such as Voi and Macknnon Road to have fun and also to speculate on plot deals,” says Mwalia.
However the trader fears that the township which is considered a high risk HIV /Aids area could further suffer from the scourge as carefree commercial sex workers flood the town to cash in on the SGR gains.
Meanwhile, controversy has been raging over plans by the government to allow the Chinese who are building the standard gauge railway line to blast the picturesque Marasi Hill near the town to provide ballast for the project.
demonstration by Wildlife Works
Following demonstrations in the town organised by the Wildlife Works organization opposing the destruction of the rocky hill, the government and some local leaders who had earlier supported the decision to destroy the hill beat a hasty retreat.
According to Laurian Lenjo the project’s community relations manager the blasting of Marasi hill would have had profound environmental and health effects on the residents of Maungu and the nearby water catchment areas.
“The blasting of the hill could expose residents to respiratory infections as well as posing noise pollution in the town,” says Lenjo.
The Wildlife Work organization is a key employer in Maungu area which has initiated numerous community projects revolving around conservation and natural resources management.
The Wildlife Works project which covers over 500,000 acres of the Kasigau corridor brings together over100,000 locals who are now enjoying the benefits of carbon credit financing.
According to Lenjo, the organisation has been producing a variety of products both for export and local consumption at their EPZ factory near Maungu township along the Nairobi –Mombasa highway, creating job opportunities to more than 400 workers.
Lenjo says the EPZ factory has been expanding gradually, with some of the carbon credits customers investing with the factory. Among the Investors is PUMA and ASOS Africa.
“Apart from buying carbon credits, PUMA contributed to the expansion of our EPZ factory so that PUMA products could be made here in Kenya, that is, in our conservation company. This has also served as a marketing conduit for PUMA products locally,” Lenjo says.
Wildlife Works also runs a local factory that collects handicrafts made by the local women, youth and disabled groups from the communities around the project area. Most of the handcrafts collected are elephant dung papers, baskets, mats, caps, assorted toys and jewelry.
“Our soap factory has also being doing relatively well. We have been experimenting in making soap with different ingredients to create quality fragrant soaps for Kenyans and international tourists alike, producing more than five core varieties of soap, with the key ingredients coming from local sources,” said Lenjo.
The soaps from Wildlife Works are sold mainly to hotels around the country making tourists and visitors feel the taste of “products from Tsavo”.
However the location of the town near Tsavo has had its flipside as wild animals especially jumbos sometimes move out of the conservancy especially during the dry seasons to search for water, posing a security threat.
A resident of the town who is a hotelier Norbert Mwendwa says water shortage is still a big challenge in the town.
“We get water twice or three times a week due to rationing of the commodity. This has forced us to construct water storage tanks to store the commodity when the supply has been disconnected,” says Mwendwa.
On matters security, area MCA Paul Waweru says cases of insecurity have gradually gone down since the security agents in the area began regular night patrols in the busy township.
“This has encouraged business people to undertake their businesses on a twenty four hour basis without fear,” says Waweru.
The completion of the multimillion Maungu lorry park project will be a further boost to the town as it will decongest the town and reduce cases of accidents posed by the long haul trucks which usually park along the highway.
The lorry park has modern stalls around its perimeter, most of these being shops and guest rooms for travelers.
Captions to photos, top-down:
1:Modern stalls at the Maungu lorry park
2:The Marasi Hill(in the background) which has been the centre of controversy with the SGR project
3:The Maungu mosque astride the Nairobi/Mombasa highway