Maralal town in Samburu County is a quiet and cool town, famed for having links to Kenya’s freedom struggle. The first president, Jomo Kenyatta, lived in the town before independence in 1963.
The larger Samburu is a land of contrasts, better described as the land of hills and a valley. The main Kirisia and Mathew ranges are productive, suitable for large-scale wheat and other cereal farming.
But despite this potential, for many years, the region has been reeling under poverty, hunger and malnutrition, female genital mutilation, illiteracy and landlessness. Insecurity has also affected livestock trade in the area, according to residents who can barely make it to the market without risking a bandit attack.
However, with the advent of devolution, the economic fortune of the region is fast changing. There is evidence that the region is roaring back to life following the launch of several mega projects by the national and county government.
Vast swathes of land, which for a very long time have been used only for grazing, have now been cleared and fenced off for commercial development.
The newly tarmacked Rumuruti-Maralal road, has given the region the most needed economic oomph.
At 90 per cent complete, the road has already attracted new businesses and turned Maralal town into an investor’s new frontier.
“Expansive shops and hotels have mushroomed as investors capitalise on ease of movement provided by the tarmacked road to access Samburu. There is ease of transportation now unlike before when goods could take up to three days,” said Mr Joe Mithamo, the chairperson of the Samburu County Investors Forum.
Mushrooming shopping centres and mini supermarkets are also opening up Maralal town, employing more locals and driving up the buying power of the region.
Several new hospitality establishments have upped the stake for the growth of the county as a tourism destination.
Other key investments in Maralal that have shaped tourism include the multi-billion Sungura Boutique Hotels in Maralal town, Seasons Hotels, Maralal Safari Lodge, Samburu Guest House, among others.
Mr Mithamo also attributed the robust business activity to an efficient business licensing regime, cleaning up and digitisation.
“We have made deliberate efforts to enhance the business environment for all investors through innovative ways. Everyone is now looking to invest here,” he said.
Ladst year in November, about 10,000 farmers from Samburu county received title deeds which enabled them to access affordable loans from the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) to boost farming activities in the area.
This is considered as a huge departure from tradition in a community where sheep, goats and cattle are highly valued and often, considered the only source of income, nutrition and symbol of wealth, health and status.
Evidence available from research shows, that there is a gradual decline in communal grazing lands in arid and semi-arid lands such as in Samburu County. The decline has necessitated need for pastoral communities to find alternate means of survival.
Data shows that an acre of land around Maralal municipality costs more than Sh5 million, depending on the surroundings, with the majority of the people working in Nyahururu and Nyandarua scouting for areas to build homes.
The journey to land ownership and privatisation has also been attributed to an increasing demand for housing.
In Maralal town, about 85 per cent of the land is occupied by private businesses, permanent structures and rental homes due to the ever-increasing demand for housing.
Neighbouring arable areas like Porro and Loosuk, land owners are taking up large scale agriculture to meet the growing demand for farm products, which are usually imported from the neighbouring counties of Laikipia and Nyandarua.
Through land privatisation, Samburu pastoralists are now able to lease their lands in the wake of increased economic investments in Maralal.
Samburu Governor Moses Lenolkulal takes pride of the economic development of the Maralal town.
He said the county had resolved to build a Sh55 million market in Maralal town due to increased business activities.
“We commend the national government for the titling programme in Maralal because, as a result, the town is growing rapidly. Land in Samburu is turning out to be an important asset in the wake of the historic titling programme, as it will definitely spur development of Maralal town,” the governor said.
He also pointed out the construction of the Rumuruti-Maralal road as a game-changer that will increase investments.
“With land ownership, we are becoming rich because people have learnt the value of land and are investing by either leasing or developing structures for commercial purposes,” he added.
Businesses on the main streets, including small retail food stores, welding sheds, barbershops and beauty salons, can now stay open at night, thanks to street lights. Before devolution, businesses would close at sunset.
Maralal Municipality chairperson Rafael Leshalote noted that Maralal is headed in “the right direction and much has been achieved,”
“We have come from far and we are planning much for this town in terms of drainages and others. This is a town where the mama mbogas (green grocers) and boda bodas will extend their business hours without worrying about their security,” said Mr Leshalote.