The Positive Effects of SGR

For over forty years I have been a frequent visitor to Narok and its environs, in part to honor my in-law obligations to my wife Rapunzel (Joyce) and some business interests.

The B3 road between Maai Mahiu and Narok has been in existence since 1973 but for a long time there was little traffic because the road terminated rather abruptly at the entrance to Narok town. Travel beyond Narok to the Maasai Mara, Bomet and Mau Narok ideally called for a four-wheel drive vehicle. During the 1990s the road was very badly neglected and the journey from Narok to Nairobi would take in excess of four hours.

Duka Moja is a shopping centre some 50kms north east of Narok town towards Suswa. Originally a cattle-holding ground dating back to the 1960s, as the name suggests, for a long time this dusty location comprised only one shop which provided various services. I remember in the 1970s and 80s there was a pick up branded “Cooper’s” which was regularly parked outside the shop. I suspect that the gentleman with the vehicle, after providing animal health services proceeded to enjoy other nebulous offerings at the shop.

In 2007 the government awarded Maltauro SPA a contract to rehabilitate the Maai Mahiu-Narok road. The main works camp was situated 3kms from Duka Moja with about 500 resident workers. This project heralded the beginning of the mercurial growth of Duka Moja.

As the main camp required three-phase power to run heavy equipment business at Duka Moja was able to tap into the supply while some of the unskilled labour force was sourced from local residents.

The resident workers at the camp relied on the Duka Moja shopping centre for their consumable supplies so the number of shops and businesses mushroomed literally overnight. Needless to say, other social services also experienced high demand. By the time the road project was completed in 2010 there were more than 200 shops and the population had grown to over 5,000.

In the meantime, the road to Bomet and onwards to Kaplong, Litein and Kericho had been upgraded to C status completing a loop from Maa Mahiu to Kericho and Kisii. Thus, the Maai Mahiu-Narok road became a major alternative route to Kisii, Kericho and even Kisumu. As a result, Duka Moja has continued to grow rapidly.

In 2017 the Standard Gauge Railway set up a camp at Duka Moja and until work was suspended recently, employed more than 900 local residents. In the last two years Duka Moja has grown exponentially and now boasts more than 500 shops and businesses. The population of this one sleepy little centre is now in excess of 20,000 and it has a thriving economy providing livelihoods for thousands of Kenyans. The highway and soon the SGR will provide the residents of Duka Moja rapid access to markets which were hitherto unreachable.

The highway and SGR have impacted property prices tremendously over the last 15 years. The price of agricultural land has risen from Sh.10,000 to between Sh.450,000 and Sh.600,000 per acre while that of township plots of 0.125 acre has risen from Sh.1,000 to Sh.800,000.

Of the two projects the SGR has influenced the growth of Duka Moja the most in terms of social, economic, spatial and environmental impact. Unfortunately, in the absence of a substantive development plan, the town has grown in a rather haphazard manner without proper consideration for roads, schools, public health and open spaces. However, the narrative of Duka Moja is but a microcosm of the positive contribution of public infrastructure programs. These knock-on effects cannot always be captured in a simple income and expenditure evaluation model.

Ideally the government has no business being in business. Its role should be confined to providing an enabling environment for business to thrive through provision of infrastructure and the attendant planning tools to guide development.

Charles Elliot the Commissioner for British East Africa from 1900 to 1904 said, “It is common for a country to create a railway, but it is uncommon for a railway to create a country.” Truth be told Kenya was created by the railway to be the country it is today and I believe the SGR is going to determine the direction of our growth in the future notwithstanding the many imponderables.

I am of course acutely aware of the negative aspects of the SGR on the environment and wildlife elsewhere as well as ethical questions concerning the transparency in costing of the project and compensation of actual and imagined landowners. I will address these concerns in a separate article at a later date.

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