By David Ohito, Courtesy of the “The Standard”
The tarmacking of Isiolo-Wajir-Mandera 748km road will be a game changer for the North Eastern counties. This will be the biggest infrastructure project undertaken in the region since independence. The World Bank- Government of Kenya funded project will go a long way in opening up a region that is historically under served and performing below national average on development indicators.
It is a milestone for the World Bank which has historically funded projects mostly along the railway line, reinforcing the argument of marginalisation of the North Eastern region despite profiling the area as abjectly poor.
Poverty levels in North Eastern are extremely high at 70 per cent, compared to 45 per cent national average. This is largely due to 50 years of neglect. The road networks are poor though marked improvement has been seen since the advent of devolution in 2013. Electricity access is at 7 per cent and most households experience water stress due to the extreme dry conditions.
The region is characteristically arid or semi-arid and frequent droughts create vulnerabilities for the population, 90 per cent of whom rely on livestock whose potential has not been exploited because of poor infrastructure.
Governors Ali Roba (Mandera), Mohamud Ali (Marsabit), Mohammed Kuti (Isiolo) and Mohamed Abdi of Wajir all agree that it will be one of the most transformative initiatives under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tenure and should be cushioned from threats of insecurity, including Al Shabaab militants targeting construction workers.
Packaged with an internet cable, the North Eastern Transport Improvement project (NETIP) will better transport services along the Isiolo-Wajir-Mandera corridor and reduce the journey hours between Nairobi and Mandera.
Currently, it takes nearly two days or about 20 hours of driving in a brand new land cruiser from Nairobi to Mandera, a distance of about 1,200km. Buses take a good two days on the stretch, and that is when there are no rains.
Mr Roba says the road will impact lives in ways never envisioned before and will harness dozens of opportunities for the county governments and the residents who pay a fortune in transport costs to have goods delivered.
For example, a bag of cement costs between Sh570 and Sh630 in Nairobi and Machakos counties while the same costs between Sh1,150 and Sh1,200 in Mandera. The difference in cost covers transport.
A journey by bus from Nairobi to Mandera costs Sh3,500 one way, twice the price between Busia and Mombasa. The project is being implemented by the Kenya National Highways Authority and the Communication Authority of Kenya, which is tasked with delivering the digital aspects of connectivity.
The frontier counties have been plagued by poor internet connectivity, affecting their transactions, including Integrated Financial Management Systems and banking services from time to time when the fibre optic is disconnected or telephone services grounded when transmission masts are destroyed by militia.
The construction of the 350km road corridor will spur social and economic infrastructure, including roadside markets, new income earning opportunities, internet connectivity and new job opportunities for youth seeking employment. When actualised, the project is envisaged to improve Kenya’s strong economic performance, which should translate into shared prosperity and a strategy to reduce poverty across the region.
The pastoralists from the region can then make good returns from their organic fresh meats transported to Nairobi for consumption or for onward freighting to destinations with higher market values like the European Union and the Arab world.
World Bank project team Leader Josephat Sasia explained the bank’s eagerness to start the project as soon as all issues such as security and matters regarding cess are addressed.
The four governors have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding removing taxes to pave way for commencement of the project. The national government has waived taxes to reduce project costs.
KenHA has promised to work with the counties to construct 5km of roads to improve road networks in the region, another bonus bagged by a county like Mandera that had never had a single kilometre of tarmac since independence.
KenHA says the entire stretch of roads has been divided into lots one to eight. A section of the road, between Kutulo and Elwak, has been reserved for local contractors
The engineering designs have been completed except for the Kutulo-Elwak section and this is also expected to be complete in the next two months.
When completed, the road will immensely boost security and reduce incidents of improvised explosive devices, that are buried in earth roads by extremist groups targeting travelers and security agents.
Mr Ohito is the Chief of Staff, Mandera County Government