By Gabriel Cajetan
For the past 15 years, Alfred Kiptanui has paid less than Sh4,000 for his one-bedroom house in Mwanzo Estate, Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County. Not even the flaking off of its roughcast walls that have withstood the test of time ever convinced him to shift to a different house.
But the father of three who works as a driver at one of the mushrooming industries in Eldoret shifted five months ago to a single room after his landlord issued him a notice, alongside other tenants, to vacate and pave way for renovations that would result in increase of rent to Sh8 000 per month.
“In these harsh economic times, I had no option but to move out,’’ says Kiptanui. “There was no way I was going to afford that amount on my salary,” he adds.
Kiptanui, who had been trusted by his previous landlord to act as a caretaker owing to the number of years he had lived in the estate along Old Uganda Road, attributes this increment to the influx of people into the county, out to take advantage of the swelling business and employment opportunities occasioned by Devolution.
“A number of local universities have established satellite campuses in this town. We, therefore, have to compete for the few available rental rooms with the increasing student population looking for hostels,” says Kiptanui.
Alive to the opportunities provided by Devolution, the Moi University Pension Scheme embarked on a landmark project, which is set to give Eldoret town a new skyline, by way of a 26-storey skyscraper.
The magnificent twin-tower building, which is being constructed on a plot next to Imperial Bank along the busy Uganda Road – off Mack Asembo Road which leads to Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital –, is expected to be the tallest and biggest building in Western Kenya.
I met Prof Chebutuk Rotich, trustee and member to the project implementation committee, when he was inspecting the progress of the work, who said the twin tower block will provide a lasting solution to challenges brought about by Devolution, especially in terms of housing.
“Perceived and real benefits coming with county governments translate into more demand for offices and even residential facilities,” he explained.
With five floors dedicated to parking, the Sh2.3 billion project will have enough space to accommodate more than 400 vehicles, in its own way addressing the shortage of parking space currently being experienced in the town.
“We shall have three basement parking levels and two others on the mezzanine floor,” says Prof Rotich, adding that the building will have 17 typical floors with offices, restaurants on the 7th and 23rd floors, and a health club and swimming pool on the 24th floor. Penthouses and a mechanical workshop will occupy the rest of the floors.
The scheme’s pension manager Charles Nyameino says their choice of investing in office space was not by chance.
“We engaged Synovate and Knight Frank as consultants to carry out a feasibility study between 2010 and 2012, who advised us that there was greater demand for office and parking space as compared to residential housing in Eldoret,” Nyameino offers.
He further says that many buildings within the Central Business District have no parking space and streets have literally been converted into parking space. The state-of the art complex is thus expected to provide both office and parking space. At its conception, the scheme intended to sell the complex to members of the public and investors once complete. Although the physical structure is expected to be complete by August and finishing done by December, Nyameino reveals that the building has already been sold out in principal and they are only waiting to seal the deal upon its completion. The project, he adds, is expected to bring a return of approximately 18 per cent.
But their interest is not just on office space. Prof Rotich says that after finishing the current project, they plan on developing high-end residential flats for sale on a plot adjacent to the site of the current project.
“This would enable those occupying the offices to easily access them from the nearby residences,” Prof Rotich avers.
The rapid growth of two and three-star hotels in Eldoret town in the past two years attests to the high expectations the investors have in the hospitality industry. Dan Mbugua, the Marketing executive at Starbucks Hotel and Restaurant in Eldoret, notes that the facility has grown tremendously with onset of Devolution. Business, he says, has been brisk.
“In a week, we host at least two different teams from various counties who come here for retreats and workshops. I can directly attribute this to Devolution,” he says.
Several supermarkets are fighting for space and attention in Eldoret as well. Khetias supermarket, which opened its branch in the town in 2013, is set to open another branch in Roadblock in the outskirts of the town. The building that will house the supermarket is almost complete and has already been painted in its colours. Khetias’ Group Marketing Manager Fredrick Ochieng says increased demand for their goods and services, occasioned by a favourable business environment in the county, has enhanced their growth.
“I cannot rule out that the establishment of county governments has had a positive impact on our growth, “noted Ochieng.
The setting up of several private hospitals in Eldoret is also linked with devolution, to which Uasin Gishu County executive in charge of Trade and Tourism Philip Melly also attributes the recent demand for office space, affirming the views held by other players.
He agrees that a condition by the County government compelling anyone willing to conduct a business in the county or with the county government to have a physical address and an office has enhanced demand. Besides the need for offices to be used by county officials, some national government officers playing co-ordination and supervisory roles in various counties have put stress on the limited office space available.
He cites an example of the National Authority for Campaign against Drug and Alcohol (Nacada), which is a national body but with offices in the regions. Eldoret, adds Melly, is not only the business hub of Uasin Gishu County but also of other several neighbouring counties, including Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Trans Nzoia and Kakamega, adding that virtually all the major public and private universities in Kenya have either established or are currently establishing campuses in the town.
“At least every major street has a university campus or a college and this calls for more office space, lecture halls, and so on,” Melly says