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Eveready exit marks decline of Nakuru as an industrial hub

A man stands outside the closed gates of
A man stands outside the closed gates of Eveready East Africa Limited in Nakuru town yesterday. PHOTO | CAROLINE CHEBET | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Last Monday’s closure of battery maker Eveready, which was blamed on cheap imports, signalled a growing trend of grand industrial exits witnessed in Nakuru in the last two decades. And as the unplanned closures foment joblessness in the largely cosmopolitan town, they leave behind a trail of giant buildings and steel structures that once housed smoking and noisy manufacturing hubs.

“The future of Nakuru is doomed. Nakuru is gone and all that is left is a mass of jobless people all over the place seeking to start a small business to support their families,” said Nakuru resident Caroline Kabiru.

With many firms still reeling from heavy debts, staff layoffs continue being witnessed across the board with some former employees heading to court in search of compensation and reinstatement.

The once flourishing Kenya Farmers Association, which supplied farm inputs and even ran a pail and can factory, is slowly rising despite huge debts and threat of having its key properties auctioned.

The Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK), once the world’s leading processor of pyrethrin, is slowly recovering with the county government sinking in Sh300 million to settle its debts and pay salary arrears for employees.

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Governor Kinuthia Mbugua’s move also saw PBK’s management replaced and a further Sh11 million sunk into a pyrethrum clone production venture where 900,000 seedlings have since been distributed to farmers across the county in a campaign to reintroduce the crop.

Motor vehicle assembler Sam-Con Limited, long known for the motto “Another One From Sam-Con” also closed shop.

Soda maker Flamingo Bottlers also closed shop. Kenya’s only pre-independence tomato paste maker Kabazi Canners, which boosted incomes of Subukia farmers, quietly went under three years ago, leaving behind a rich legacy that saw Kabazi centre born next to the facility.

But Nakuru’s future could be hinged on an emerging middle class, driven by availability of public funds in the county where locals insist on buying “made-in-Nakuru” items. Among them is Africa Motor Group, which plans to establish a vehicle assembling plant in the town as well as two electric cable makers and a solar panel maker based in Naivasha.

Construction materials suppliers Alibhai Shariff, Mache, C.K Patel and an array of others have spurred growth in the industry.

Long gone are the days of vibrant agricultural production that saw Kenya Railways construct rail links to go-downs belonging to Milling Corporation, Kenya National Trading Corporation, Unga Limited, Elliots Bakeries, Elianto, Kenya Co-operative Creameries and Kenya Planters and Co-operative Union.

Nakuru was the town to beat, what with its many industries that operated round the clock among them Londra Limited; a garment maker, Nakuru Blankets, Premier Dairies, Rift Valley Hatcheries, Rift Valley Refrigerators, Coil Products, Gohil Soap Factory and ink-maker Mbuni.Observers aver that mass importation of cheap products — from vehicles to knives, farm inputs to second-hand clothes, shoes, synthetic chemicals and processed foods as well as farm produce from South Africa and China — has dealt the industries a death blow.

Mea Limited is putting up a fertiliser plant in the town with Farmers World Limited also running a bulk handling facility where imported fertiliser is repackaged for sale. An investor, Mr Zakayo Maina, has also established a toothpick-making venture.

Nakuru’s central location has also attracted universities and colleges which have enrolled students from across the country.

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