Seven years since the last machine
was turned off at Pan African Paper
Mills in Webuye, life has been taking
a downturn for many families in the
Western Kenya town.
For a first-time visitor it is evident
Webuye town, which was once bubbling
with activities, is now rife with
poverty and hopelessness.
The factory that stood like a pillar
of life in the midst of the town
has collapsed, causing many of the
town’s homes to be deserted.
vandalised and rusting machines at
the mills resemble a monument that
is a stark reminder of the better past
which, it seems, may never return.
With a population of more than
100,000 residents, Webuye town has
suffered massive effects from the collapse
in 2009 of what was East Africa’s
largest paper manufacturer.
Residents here were used to the
dark, thick smoke, roaring machines
and heavy industrial stench that
engulfed the skies, bellowing from
chimneys at Pan Paper.
they wake up to a silent environment,
clear sky and breathe fresh
Life has changed drastically, residents
“We just thought it was a joke that
time, seven years ago. But we have
waited in vain and now many of us
have accepted the fact that it will
take a miracle for Pan Paper to roar
back to life. The company collapsed
and shuttered our lives,” says Ronald
Wekesa, a former employee of the
company who now ekes out a living
from being a boda boda operator in
Wekesa, who was a store staff at
the company for 25 years, says many
people in Webuye are counting losses
because Pan Paper literally drove the
economy of the town.
“Many people relied on this company
and since it collapsed many of
them walk like sick people because
life changed for the worst,” he says.
Wekesa, like the more than 2,500
former employees, was sent home
He has given up
hope of receiving a pension or savings
from the firm’s sacco.
Wekesa earned about Sh25,000
monthly from the company but now
he hardly makes Sh6,000 per month
from his boda boda business because
the collapse of the company affected
most of the residents in Webuye.
Schools, hotels, hardware shops,
sporting activities and even the
once-vibrant mitumba markets shut
down as the economy of Webuye
was brought to its knees.
this is all over the town, which spots
many abandoned businesses.
The government pumped close to
Sh1 billion to revive the company under
retired President Mwai Kibaki’s
regime, but the plan was not successful
as debtors demanded more than
Sh5 billion for supplies and services.
The state was a major shareholder
in the firm and President Uhuru Kenyatta
and Industrialisation CS Adan
Mohamed visited Webuye two years
ago promising to revive the factory,
but there has been no word since.
“We know there have been very
good efforts by the government to revive Pan Paper, but we also understand
there are so many challenges.
We still have hope,” Bungoma Governor Kenneth Lusaka says.
ready to work with the government
or any stakeholder willing to put back
life into that firm.”
Lusaka says Webuye was the industrial
town of Bungoma and Pan Paper the main firm in the region but with
its collapse, the county lost more than
Sh100 billion which circulated in its
He says Webuye’s
economy slumped by more than 80
per cent and life in the town is miserable.
Michael Mang’oli worked at the
paper mill’s finishing house for 30
He is among those who pray
for God’s intervention to save them
from lives of agony.
For survival he
has opened a mitumba business at
the firm’s gate as he awaits what he
calls the “white smoke” signalling the
return of Pan Paper.
Manuj Shah, who runs a supermarket,
plans to relocate by June because
of low profits.
Pan African Paper accounted for
almost 60 per cent of the market
for paper and industrial packaging
grades of paperboard in Kenya.
The story of Pan Paper is a bitter tale
few residents of Webuye town would
like to hear.
But in their midst stands
the rotting remnants of the company
and every day as residents watch the
sunset across the hills of Chetambe,
it, perhaps, serves as a reality check
that Pan Paper is indeed dead.
with many lives in Webuye town.