Columnists

Thika is strategic to our economy; ring-fence its future growth now

DNTHIKAROAD1511C

Thika super highway. FILE PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

Just pulled off the Thika Superhighway en route to Thika. I am standing opposite what used to be Castle Breweries and looking west.

High-rise residential units have lately mushroomed here. A look east brings into view upcoming structures, some business, others residential.

Ahead of me lies the elevated traffic exchange that I once marvelled at while studying at Mangu High School, which is a short distance behind where I stand.

A drive west from the traffic exchange takes you through Kinale Forest to Flyover Market, linking with the transport corridor from Nairobi to western Kenya into Uganda.

A drive northwards traverses the Mt Kenya region, through Isiolo, Marsabit and Moyale, into Ethiopia. A drive east leads to Garissa Road.

This road passes through Machakos, Kitui, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera counties, into Somalia.

Moreover, the acclaimed Del Monte farms sit to the north and east of Thika. They’re renowned for pineapple growing, and related processing.

Read: Thika Road contractors yet to be paid Sh428m

Thika always stood out as an industrial town. It still is, supporting the livelihoods of many from Nairobi, Murang’a, Machakos and Kitui counties.

Blue Post Hotel, Chania Falls and Fourteen Falls have kept Thika in the national and international tour circuit.

Gretsa University, which is off Garissa Road, and the nearby Mt Kenya University, have established homes in Thika, enhancing its standing in the knowledge industry.

I make my case. Thika is a strategic town to Kenya’s economy and transnational infrastructure. It’s a key gateway to the national capital for goods to and from regional markets in Somalia and Ethiopia through northern Kenya.

It provides a market for some of Kenya’s raw materials helpful in agro- and industrial processing. It complements Nairobi’s economy in a most symbiotic manner as well.

Nevertheless, one would worry about Thika’s future, say, about 10 years from now. For instance, the developments I see straddling the superhighway from where I stand will soon overwhelm, and degrade the face of Thika.

It would be nice if measures were to be taken to preserve the aesthetics along the superhighway. Let planners guide on the permissible developments, and environmental measures, including the preservation of green zones, that would enhance Thika’s beauty.

Thanks to the Kenya National Highways Authority, we now have footbridges at Mangu High School and at Witeithie Market, which saw the bumps within the section removed.

Before then, traffic jams used to run back kilometres on either side, particularly on month ends. Those who’ve had to attend morning business in Thika also know about the traffic that builds up while turning off the superhighway into Thika town.

Read: Funding stalls Sh5.6bn Thika Road BRT line

There’s often a traffic pile-up around Makongeni on Garissa Road too. With increased urban growth and highway traffic, these jams will increase and clog the key transport corridors much more.

It would help to kick-start plans for appropriate bypasses.