Kibwezi-Kitui Road is a game changer

President Uhuru Kenyatta unveils a plaque as he launches upgrading work on the Kibwezi-Kitui-Kabati-Migwani road to bitumen standard in Mutomo, Kitui County. / Courtesy
President Uhuru Kenyatta unveils a plaque as he launches upgrading work on the Kibwezi-Kitui-Kabati-Migwani road to bitumen standard in Mutomo, Kitui County. / Courtesy

On infrastructure, the Jubilee government stands heads and shoulders above its predecessors, and has been without peer.

In line with our proactive policy of matching rhetoric with concrete action, the the government has worked hard to implement and bring to completion a number of critical road projects that were previously no more than just a catalogue of good intentions on paper.

We have done — and continue to do — this in all parts of the country, without partiality, and citizens are beginning to reap the economic and social benefits of these projects.

The plan to tarmac the Kibwezi-Kitui Road dates back to 2011, when the government entered into an agreement with Sinohydro Corporation of China for the construction of the 145km stretch at a cost of Sh18.4 billion.

This was a pre-condition for the receipt of financial support from the China Export Import Bank.

Five years later, and with the coming to power of the Jubilee administration, the scope of works would be changed, increasing the length of road to 192Km but retaining the cost.

The latest scope includes the following sections and details: Kibwezi-Kitui (145km); Kabati-Migwani (16.7km); Kibwezi Township (3km); Ikutha Township (3 km); Mutomo Township (4km); Kitui Township (3km); interchanges at Kibwezi and Kitui; rehabilitation of the Kitui-Kabati Road and social amenities on the Kibwezi-Kitui Road.

The now 420km road will be implemented by the Sinohydro Corporation Ltd under an Engineer Procure Construct contract. The government of Kenya and China Exim Bank jointly finance the project.

For ease of implementation, it has been divided into three phases — Kibwezi-Mutomo-Kitui (145km); Kitui-Mwingi-Kandwia (103km) and lastly, Kandwia-Tseikuru-Usueni-Mikinduri-Muriri (172km) — which will be worked on concurrently. Completion is expected in December 2019

President Uhuru Kenyatta officially launched the project on December 6, 2016 and work is continuing apace on the 145 km Kibwezi-Kitui segment, easily one of the most famous roads in Ukambani.

The project has commenced in earnest, with construction already underway on two fronts, while the design work for almost 40km has been completed in detail.

Supervision by the Kenya National Highways Authority appointed consultant is on schedule. The contractor has mobilised substantial number of equipment and human resource capacity to fully engage in the project.

Even then, the project has not been without its challenges. Key among these is the imposition of fees and levies on the contractor, principally by the government of Kitui, which it is enforcing through a clampdown on its vehicles and equipment.

There is also need for re-location of electricity poles that are not aligned with the road. It is hoped that these will be resolved through ongoing engagement between the county and Kenya Power.

Being part of the larger Mombasa – Addis Ababa Corridor which links the Mombasa –Nairobi Highway at Kibwezi and the Nairobi –Addis Ababa Highway at Isiolo, this project provides an alternative, shorter route to Moyale and ultimately Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

With this option, traffic headed to these areas from Mombasa need not pass through Nairobi.

But the transformative potential of the Kibwezi-Kitui-Mwingi - Usueni - Mikinduri–Muriri road lies in its huge economic promise.

First off, this road will open up huge swathes of Northern Kenya, exposing them to modern commerce and socio-economic contact and in the process, unlocking the potential of six Counties —Makueni, Kitui, Tharaka Nithi, Meru, Isiolo, and Marsabit. Embu will not be left out of the benefits, thanks to the Chiakariga-Ena Road.

In the process, it will greatly improve trade between the Mount Kenya region, Lower Eastern and Coast.

Travel time between Kibwezi and Usueni will be materially reduced, greatly improving movement of goods and people, and security.

Agriculture will be a key beneficiary as transportation of agricultural produce from Kitui and Tharaka Nithi counties to the nearby towns will now be much easier and more efficient, contributing to improved food security and distribution in Eastern region in general.

Another sector that is expected to receive a boost is tourism through improved links to Tsavo East National Park, Kitui South Game Reserve, Mwingi National Reserve, Meru National Park and Kora Game Reserve.

The road traverses a mineral-rich hinterland, with proven, commercially viable coal deposits in the Mui Basin; limestone at Mutomo; and iron ore at Ikutha.

The exploitation of these resources will be bolstered through better road links to markets and human capital.

Almost needless to say, and as experience has taught us, the completion of this road will bring with it other critical auxiliary infrastructure such as power, water, telecommunication and social amenities, providing a strong anchor for the economic take-off of an area that has hitherto been under-served by such.

This project will be a major boost towards underwriting the long-term development and overall viability of the Mombasa-Isiolo-Moyale Corridor, and the Lapsset project.

The author is the Principal Secretary for the department of Infrastructure