Sh18bn Kibwezi-Kitui road opens up region for trade


Kalamba section of the Kibwezi-Kitui road. PHOTO | PIUS MAUNDU | NMG

The 192km Kibwezi-Kitui-Migwani road is not yet complete but its benefits are already being felt.

The Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) managing director Peter Mundinia says the Sh18.4 billion project, which is funded jointly by Kenyan taxpayers and the Chinese EX-IM Bank is more than 90 percent complete. However, the agency has opened up the road for use ahead of its commissioning.

The class B road, which is part of the Mombasa-Isiolo-Addis Ababa Transport Corridor, will provide a direct link between Mombasa and Ethiopia through Isiolo and Moyale.

It is meant to decongest Mombasa-Nairobi highway and open up Ukambani for development.

The road project entails sprucing up of Kibwezi, Ikutha, Mutomo and Kitui townships. The townships which trace their history to the slave trade of yore have for the first time-acquired storm water drainage systems and tarmacked feeder roads.

Shipping and Logistics has established that plans to install a lorry park around Kibwezi Township are at an advanced stage. The government is in the process of sourcing an 11-acre piece of land for setting up the facility, another component of the road project.

“The lorry park will be a resting point for trucks on transit along the new road. The facility will spur the emergence of business opportunities in the region,” said Kibwezi assistant county commissioner Vitalis Ogur.

The Kibwezi-Kitui road bypass has become popular with matatus, buses and trucks heading to and from destinations in Embu, Kiambu, Kitui, Machakos, Makueni, Meru and Mombasa counties.

Matatus plying Kibwezi-Kitui route have dominated the road. Motorists on long distance trips cut at least 100km by using Kibwezi-Kitui road, according to Cosmas Kioko, a director at Kinatwa Prestige Sacco whose matatus operate Mwingi-Mombasa route.

“Travelling through Kibwezi-Kitui road means using less fuel compared to going through Machakos Town since the new road passes through a region with no hills,” he said.

This, Mr Kioko added, has significantly reduced the time it takes to travel in the region and the cost of maintaining vehicles.

“A drive from Kibwezi to Kitui takes around an hour today. It took at least five hours to travel the same distance three years ago,” said Mr Robert Mutyambai, a teacher who uses the road regularly while shuttling between his home in Kitui and work station in Makueni.

The headteacher at Kisayani Primary School in Makueni County keeps goats as a side hustle. He has seen an increase in trucks coming for goats at Mutha, a market on the border of Kitui and Tana River counties which is known for Galla goats, after the tarmacking of the road.

“High value traders are coming all the way from Mombasa for goats on market day,” he said.

Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki says the new road has been drawing investors prospecting for minerals and real estate in the region, noting that it will significantly open up the region for trade.

The transport sector has already benefitted immensely from the development of the infrastructure. Matatus plying the Kibwezi-Kitui route charge between Sh400 and Sh500 one way. Buses charge less. This is a reduction from between Sh800 and Sh1000 the vehicles charged for the same distance before the tarmacking of the road.

A good share of the money, according to the owners of the PSVs, went into repairing the vehicles after damage from the bad road, which plunged into deplorable state during the rainy season.

But not everybody is happy about the new road. The owners of matatus plying Kibwezi-Kitui road have started feeling the heat of the competition following the influx of public service vehicles on the road.

These factors have sparked complaints by local matatu operators who feel that they are being edged out of business.

“Tarmacking Kibwezi-Kitui road has made it very attractive to so many matatu operators. The resulting cutthroat competition among the matatus and buses translates to minimal business to their owners,” said David Makali, an operator of matatus plying the route and the treasurer of Lower Eastern Travelers Welfare Association, an umbrella association of matatu owners in the region.