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Sherehe sheria! How university students’ party culture revived Murang’a town

Murang’a town was on the verge of economic collapse but got its kiss of life by the launch of the Murang’a University College in 2011 which later became a University five years later.

The University students have now become the salvation of the town especially in liquor trade where some entertainment joints are known to employ street brokers to befriend as many students as possible.

The students are also known to dictate rent rates in the town.

The actualisation of the Murang’a University was a full evolvement of the Murang’a College of Technology that had been established in 1975 and the population surge that it brought came with economic gains.

The university came just at the time the town that had relied on the coffee boom of the 1970’s and 1980’s was losing its mojo owing to collapse of agricultural ventures.

The town served as the first British East African Protectorate administrative post in 1895 then called Fort Smith before it was changed to Fort Hall, effectively erasing the name Mbiri by which locals identified it with.

After independence, area people gave their town the name Murang’a.

This is the capital town of a county that by 1980’s was said to be lending the country’s treasury millions of shillings made as surplus from coffee farming proceeds, to finance the national budget.

“The university came with immense benefits since its student and staff population hit 10, 000. We had to accommodate, feed, clothe, power their technologies and entertain them…It came as a big market for us,” reminisces former Township ward MCA Ms Jacinta Ng’ang’a (2017-2022).

She says the university made area rental rates record more than 300 percent growth, spurred growth of cyber cafes and transport sectors as the entertainment joints roared back to life.

“Everyone with something to sell in the town bit into the blessing of the university as nightlife too became vibrant after Muthithi vibe entrenched itself in area clubbing culture,” she said.

But area economic and security pundits are worried that the growth of the town has blundered by relying on the students to drive its economy.

“We have a town that is the headquarters of Murang’a County whose economic model is unfriendly to long term stability. What we need are real drivers of economy. We need industries in the town so that we can employ locals who roam the town jobless,” said Murang’a Senator Joe Nyutu.

Mr Nyutu said “intending to serve as senator till 2032, I must insist that we revisit the manufacturing dream that will see us establish cottage industries in strategic places of the county so that we can encourage our people not to migrate to other counties in search of livelihoods”.

The Senator said currently Murang’a is a white collar job town where if you are not in the civil service or county government employment, then you are a hustler in it surviving on shoestring budget.

He said this is a concern that even President William Ruto has on several occasions cited during his visits in the county.

“If we were to segment the jobs that Murang’a town offers, they are mainly hawking, riding motorcycles, serving alcohol and random menial jobs. We must think on how to make our town a hub of greater and more solid opportunities,” he said.

Mr Nyutu said “we need to sit down with the president, local leaders, our renowned wealthy sons and daughters and see how we can partner to put up industrial parks that will make our people increase chances of securing earning opportunities”.

The County is native home to the likes of Dr James Mwangi who is Equity CEO, Peter Munga who is ex Equity board chairman, Britam’s Benson Wairegi as well as Centum’s Jimnah Mbaru. It is also home to the late Nairobi Institute of Business and Technical studies Chief Executive Ms Liz Wanyoike, Royal Media Services mogul Samuel Kamau (SK) Macharia and the late business mogul, Chris Kirubi.

According to a 2014 article by former Information PS Dr Bitange Ndemo titled: The Mystery of Success, he highlights that the County has Rwathia ward that which alone controls almost 20 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and nearly half of the stock market in the country.

As the debate rages, the County security managers who have their headquarters in the town cry that the area is becoming a criminal hub owing to the many unemployed.

“We are seriously fighting criminals who want to establish a culture of bhang, illicit brews and gambling dens…We are also fighting strip dancers and bar owners’ impunity. Wines and Spirits shops have been haphazardly licensed,” said Murang’a County Commissioner Joshua Nkanatha.

Mr Nkanatha said “we are committed to ensuring that all those who are hosted by this town enjoy maximum safety. But we as security managers cannot create livelihoods that make enforcement work easier. We seriously need industries, good thing being that this is the thinking of our president who has guided us to cooperate and collaborate to make it real”.

Former Murang’a governor Mwangi wa Iria is credited with entrenching trading liberalisation in the town and insists it is from that drive that the future of area towns should be built.

“I refused the incitement by other agencies that we regulate hawking. I said no and ensured that everyone with anything to sell shows up in town and trade. I made it a governance crime to displace or arrest a hawker,” Wa Iria said.

He added that he made it a policy that traders be allowed to flock the town and “our business as enforcement was limited to managing them by placing all in zones and monitoring safety and hygiene”.

He said lack of employment opportunities was breeding self -destructive lifestyles among area youth, “in the past 30 years recording sluggish population growth and which we intended to mitigate by launching milk and avocado processors in the area and its environs”.

Combination of residents having low development goals, betrayal by its billionaires who shy away from investing back home, bad governance as well as adoption of cults and bad manners in voting patterns remain key.

Murang’a governor Dr Irungu Kang’ata said the area will benefit from a livelihoods support drive dubbed Murang’a Youth Service and Internship Programmes at a cost of Sh130 million targeting 3,102 youths.
While launching the programme last month, he said the move will mitigate joblessness through offering them pay for cleaning up towns starting later this month.

During a Mt Kenya Foundation meeting in Kandara on June 17, 2022, its chairman Mr Peter Munga said the county needed a devolved government that embraced investments from the private sector “in a plot that pursues value addition, employment and wealth creation”.

Mr Munga is acknowledged to be committed to that cause since he has invested heavily in the horticulture, education, tea and concrete poles industries where hundreds get their livelihood.

“If we were to have a county government that will give the private sector ideal incentives so as to make the area a friendly investment hub…we would seriously salvage our youths from self-destruction and keep them busy.

“Industrializing this county demands that the private sector and government work together with the populations’ quality of life being our measure,” he said.

While Mr Munga has strived to invest in the county his peers have kept off.
As a result, if devolution that is now 11 years old had worked, rural urban migration from the County’s nine administrative units of Ithanga/Kakuzi, Gatanga, Kandara, Maragua, Kigumo, Kiharu, Kahuro,

Kangema and Mathioya would be manifesting an exodus to its Murang’a as its capital town in search of opportunities.

“The billionaires keeping off investing in their county have denied their village folks immense benefits of jobs, wealth and savings and the sum effect is a region that is home to hustlers who in pursuit of that livelihood, resorts to enterprises that define defiant poverty,” said Murang’a Investors in Nairobi Welfare Union chairman Mr Kanene Kabiru.

Mr Kabiru argues that “Murang’a is what it is today because those who first saw the light did not get back to their town to lead an economic revolution on behalf of generations”.

Former Mt Kenya MCAs Caucus Chairman Mr Charles Mwangi said the media should adopt a new stand where “every politician who accuses the youth of crime and the police of duty negligence should show us the livelihood opportunity he or she has created for the jobless in the town”.

He said that while criminal youths should not be tolerated, even politicians who rail at crime without creating employment opportunities should also not be given media space.

Mr Mwangi said the town should not be used as a sloganeering zone where jobless attend political meetings and are seen on TV being told to raise up their hands to show solidarity with political causes and formations and are later left to waste themselves and the county as well as community future.

He said the county deserves juices and wines industries to tap fruits grown in the area; cassava and banana blend flour processor, livestock products processors as well as mining plants.

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