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Uhuru to open Karatina market after years of waiting

Thursday November 1 2018

National Youth Service officers clean up

National Youth Service officers clean up Karatina open air market on October 31, 2018 in readiness for the official opening by President Uhuru Kenyatta. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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President Uhuru Kenyatta will finally open the Karatina market on Thursday after nearly a decade of wrangles, which had stalled the project.

The construction of the project, which was commissioned in 2010, had been affected by politics and constant change of contractors.


The market, which is the second largest open air market in Africa after Nigeria’s Kano, started operating in 1938 as a barter trade centre. Transactions were done under a small tree known as "Karatina" (Kigelia africana).

The market eventually sprung into a shopping centre during the construction of the Nairobi – Nanyuki railway line.

In 2009, the then coalition government under the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) mooted the idea to upgrade the market, a key economic lifeline of Karatina town and its environs.

Since it's commissioning, the multi-million rehabilitation project has been dogged by endless controversies that led to its stalling. Its rehabilitation was meant to be a key achievement of former President Mwai Kibaki under the ESP. The idea was to boost economic growth and lift the economy out of a serious recession that hit the country after the 2007/2008 post-election violence. 

However, the project has taken almost a decade to be completed, longer than the multi-billion standard gauge railways from Mombasa to Nairobi which took only three years.

Former President Kibaki and the then Mathira MP, now Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina, commissioned the construction of the project amid fanfare in 2009 with the pledge that it would be completed by July 2013.

Many stakeholders argue the project could have been affected by vested interests, local political rivalries, bureaucracy and underfunding, much to the detriment of thousands of traders who rely on it.

Mr Gerald Kimondo, the chairman of Karatina Market Traders Association, holds the view that political interference has been the bane of the project.

This view is also held by many others, among them a former Karatina Ward Councilor Jackson Kanja in whose tenure the project was initiated. He has attributed the delay to political bickering by successive competing political factions in Mathira constituency.


The project that has since become a hot potato in Mathirs was a major political campaign tool in two successive elections; 2013 and 2017.  Rival politicians promised to champion its completion once they assumed leadership.

During the 2013 elections, the project featured prominently in the Nyeri gubernatorial contest between the late Governor Ndiritu Gachagua and the late Wahome Gakuru, with each promising to lobby for its completion.

Mr Gachagua on assuming office visited the site, where he promised the traders that the project would be jumpstarted and they would move in "in just a few days".  Two years later, there was virtually no activity until 2015 when the project was "re -launched" by the then Lands and Urban Development Cabinet Secretary Joseph Kaimenyi.

 Again, a promise was made to traders that the market would be operational within one year.

A few months of moving bricks and sand here and there followed, and then everything stopped. A big shell of bricks and broken promises stood at the middle of Karatina Town in monumental fashion.


In 2017, another political season came and the songs of promises were playing on replay. Politicians clung onto traders' hems begging for votes.

"I give you my word. Vote for me and I will make sure the market is completed," they all sang.

While on a campaign trail in Mathira, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was the then Finance minister when the project was initiated, also promised to ensure the market would be completed "in the shortest time possible".

 Soon after taking over the top county seat, the late Dr Gakuru visited the site and assured his personal commitment to its completion. And so did his successor Governor Mutahi Kahiga.

More than 5,000 traders were relocated to a temporary site, which becomes soggy during rainy seasons and chokes them in dust during the dry seasons


Talking to Nation on Thursday, Mr Kimondo said:  "We are disappointed and concerned that despite the assurances we got from politicians, it has become obvious they do not have the interest of traders. They have been playing politics with this project."

The stalling of the project has previously triggered numerous demonstrations by thousands of angry traders.

The market's rehabilitation entails the construction of a three storey building with 8,000 square metre floor space, an underground parking and a cold storage facility.

 The cost of the project is said to have shot up over that period from the initial budget of Sh260 million to a staggering Sh400 million owing to the delay, change of contractors and rising cost of building materials.

During a consultative meeting early this year, an official from the department of Housing and Development, Mr Lawrence Mwangi, was quoted attributing the delay to inadequate funding and changing of contractors.


 Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua has been rooting for the completion of the market.

 "This is an embarrassment to the government and all of us, in fact some of us have been forced to dodge traders who keep asking us about this project. We have been taken round in circles for nine years and we will not take it anymore," he said.

 However, after nearly a decade of intriguing twists and turns, there is hope at last for thousands traders who hope to start using the facility again in the next few days.

"We are indeed very grateful to the leaders who have pushed this project to its logical conclusion. It is a happy ending and we believe this time we are getting the real deal," said Mr Kimondo.