The bombshell that the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) will not immediately go past Naivasha to Kisumu has hit hard a number of speculators who had bought property worth billions of shillings along the route eyeing compensation from the government.
A wave of excitement had been spreading in areas where the line was expected to cross on its way to Kisumu after completion of the Nairobi-Naivasha phase expected in August, with land prices steadily shooting up.
The uncertainty over the building of SGR will also be a big blow to strategic businesses that had planned with the Narok-Bomet -Kisumu route after Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia on Friday announced Sh40 billion would be spent to rehabilitate the Metre Gauge Railway instead.
It is not clear how long the SGR project will take to resume — if at all, given the huge investment in rehabilitating the old line — but most of those who bought land along the route had anticipated quick returns. On Saturday, State House indicated there were no loan negotiations in Beijing but did say when these would continue.
In the ongoing Nairobi-Naivasha phase of the construction, the amount given out in way leave compensation was at least Sh10.2 billion, giving huge expectations to land buyers and residents on the Naivasha-Kisumu stretch.
One of the targeted areas is Bomet. In February 2018, a contingent of government officials travelled from Nairobi to Bomet to inform Governor Joyce Laboso and residents that a substation of the SGR would be constructed near the county headquarters.
The team — which comprised National Land Commission (NLC) officials, Kenya Railways surveyors and representatives of the Chinese company building the SGR — said there would be compensation for those who surrendered land.
Mr Samwel Totorei, a commissioner of the NLC whose term expired early this year, was part of the team.
“Do not be cheated by cartels and land speculators to surrender your land. Instead deal directly with government institutions on the matter,” he said.
The team’s revelation created a wave of excitement that is replicated in parts of Narok County where the Nairobi-Naivasha phase of the SGR has touched.
As a result of the project, the value of land has tripled in Mai Mahiu, Suswa and Satellite area where a proposed industrial park feeding on the railway will be located.
Due to the construction of the new railway, a 50-by-100 feet plot that used to fetch Sh300,000 in Suswa two years ago is now selling at Sh1.5 million.
Many of those who bought land in Suswa are outsiders from Nairobi, Kisii, Naivasha, Nakuru among other areas.
Mr Joseph Kamau bought two acres of land next to Suswa town and thought it was a sure hit especially if the SGR would be extended through Narok to Bomet and Sotik then finally to Kisumu.
Speaking to the Sunday Nation on phone, Mr Kamau said he bought the land for Sh3 million last year. He is now staring at a loss because the land is not on the most prime.
“I was convinced to buy land in Suswa because of the 120 kilometre Nairobi-Naivasha line which I hear costs Sh150 billion. I believed I would set up a business near the SGR phase 2A Terminus in Suswa. But it seems I was hoodwinked,” he added.
Another land buyer, Mr Samson Momanyi, said the blueprints that were made available by government officials left no doubt that there would be a mega impact of the SGR because of a container depot.
“I was attracted by the dry port in Kedong Ranch that partly touches Suswa Centre. I thought maybe once the project is completed, Suswa will grow big because most containers will be picked there. I had a plan to put up a hotel — the cheap hotels for truck drivers — or build some average housing units to serve the workforce who will be there,” he added.
He thus bought the land for about Sh2.5 million per acre in the outskirts of the centre.
Narok East MP Lemanken Aramat said the craze of buying rural land at exorbitant prices in a bid to cash in on some “hoax” projects has left many families in misery.
The Jubilee legislator decried uncontrolled sale of land along the SGR corridor, warning that it was a time bomb waiting to explode for locals.
“We are now seeing a lot of advertisements in the media for plots in Suwa and Duka Moja. The land there has turned prime because of the SGR and we will not allow this to happen,” said Mr Aramat.
The MP asked the land speculators to spend their money elsewhere.
On their part, residents of Suswa who spoke with the Sunday Nation said they were already feeling the effects of the railway line, in terms of infrastructure and value of land.
Mr Parsayia Kisongoi, a community leader, said that for years, the area had been neglected in terms of infrastructure but this had changed since the SGR construction began.
He said if the project ends at the current spot, it risks taking residents back to where they have been.
“We have seen the value of land rise and the contractors have assisted in building some classes, water pans and even rehabilitating rural roads and we are grateful,” he said.
Residents around Kisumu were also excited about the prospect of getting a windfall from the project.
To address that, an NLC official in Kisumu, who spoke with the Sunday Nation on condition of anonymity, said the commission has been deliberately delaying to publish details of affected land so that unscrupulous individuals cannot come up with inflated figures.
The official said the move is intended to bar people from speculating and building structures along the line in order to demand for a higher pay.
“We have in the past experienced an influx of buildings and structures as well as farming along the SGR line and this has often caused the commission to spend more money in paying up for the cost of land plus the buildings,” he said yesterday.
“This is one of the reasons why there is variance in payment from one section to the next as some people also move to settle in the areas. Displacing them will mean that we spend more money,” added the official.
On the other hand, it will be good news to those along the route of the old railway, which will be rehabilitated at a cost of Sh40 billion. The residents of Nakuru, Molo, Londiani, Muhoroni areas whose hopes of having a train pass by was already dashed with the SGR plan, as they watched the old-line rot are now preparing for a revival.
Additional reporting by Elvis Ondieki and Edwin Okoth