Leaders from Kitui County are accusing the government of reneging on a promise to fully tarmac the Kitui–Kibwezi road and abandoning the project midway.
The protests arose after it emerged that the road project, which is under construction, will be terminated before reaching Migwani town, without connecting to the Thika–Garissa Road at Mbondoni junction as earlier planned.
This means, the Sh18.5 billion road project, which was meant to connect Mombasa port with eastern and northeastern counties, will leave a section of about 17 kilometers dilapidated.
The Kibwezi–Kitui–Mwingi road is a crucial piece of infrastructure that is part of the Northern Corridor, a regional highway holding the key to unlocking the economic potential of Ukambani region.
Experts say it is central in many ways to the country especially in the success of Vision 2030, the economic blueprint which aims to make Kenya an industrialised in 10 years, because it provides the shortcut from Mombasa to Addis Ababa.
Led by Mwingi West MP Charles Nguna, the leaders questioned the rationale and logic of abandoning such a major highway before it connects the Garissa highway.
Mr Nguna, in whose constituency the Migwani–Mbondoni section falls, lamented that the road project is nearing completion with no clear explanation from the government why the contract is being abandoned midway.
“This is a class B road, which had been neglected for several decades and its essence was to connect Mombasa and Kitui, and ease mobility of goods and services across various regions” said Mr Nguna in a letter to Cabinet Secretary for Roads James Macharia.
Mr Nguna said while the community appreciates the project having been rolled out, abandoning the section will disadvantage his constituents and Kenyans at large if the government doesn’t set asides funds to fully tarmac the road.
The MP has notified local police of his intention to lead a demo of local community to protest the move to abandon the 17km piece of the road.
While launching the project in December 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta gave a commitment that the new road should connect the two highways Nairobi–Mombasa highway and Thika–Garissa highway.
However, Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) Board Chairman Eng Wangai Ndirangu said they are aware of concerns of the Kitui leaders and that the government was keen on completing the project.
Eng Ndirangu said based on the scope of works and budgetary constraints, the contract signed with Chinese contractor Sino Hydro Construction had to be terminated before connecting the Garissa highway but additional funds will be sought to do the remaining section.
Speaking when he toured the project, the KeNHA chairman assured Kitui leaders that the government will not abandon the road project which cuts across twelve constituencies in Kitui and Makueni counties midway.
“The initial Sh18.5 billion was a loan from China, but we’re working on modalities to mobilise funds to ensure continuity of the project in order to achieve the intended purpose” he said.
The project, Eng Ndirangu said was 75 per cent completion level and thanked the Chinese contractor of implementing on schedule and to the highest quality standards.
“By February next year, we expect the project which was launched in December 2016 to be completed. KeNHA will continue engaging all stakeholders including local leadership in ensuring its smooth implementation” Eng Ndirangu told journalists during his tour.