The Road to Namanga

Run for the border

After a month of being cooped up with elections and politics, it’s a welcome opportunity to take a brief trip out of town.

The drive to Namanga is pleasant and with many causal things to observe. However it takes about an hour to leave Nairobi, owing to the traffic from the City Center up to before the airport.

The expansion of Mombasa Road (to three lanes) contributes to a major traffic jam as we pass the still-under-construction new Standard/KTN building, Vision Plaza – an office complex that was slightly ahead of its time, and is still looking to fill some vacant spaces, and Panari Hotel – host of an ice rink, Brazilian restaurant and affordable convenience for transit passengers. As we pass the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in early afternoon, one of new Fly 540 aircraft swoops in to land.

Traffic is slow, at the by-passes and diversions of what used to be Mlolongo infamous meat eating area, towards Athi River which now has an almost -complete cement factory by Tororo Cement who will be the fourth major local producer.

Then there’s the Rattansi peace village, proposed site of new Hindu University of Kenya, and numerous single houses. Whatever real estate prices are in the area, they will probably triple in the next dozen years, after the by pass and dual carriage way roads are completed.

On into plains area with occasional zebra sightings. There are numerous chicken-rearing farms for Kenchic and flower estates. Flower farms are visible even from aircraft, and i wonder if it is possible for a media company to draw up some adverts to be displayed on these roofs for long-distance advertising.

Then the curio shops, some which say ‘welcome’ in German (and other languages) to attract tourists, a well-maintained railway, trains and wagons belonging to Magadi Soda Company. Magadi also have a trial farm growing jatropha seedlings, and this is the road to Amboseli which I wonder why it is not as world famous as the Masai Mara.

Amboseli, has arguably the same wild life concentration, is closer to Nairobi and has better road access. To (cap it all) it has Mt. Kilimanjaro as it’s background.

Finally get to Namanga is about 130 kilometres from Nairobi (from where one can branch off to the gates of Amboseli 70km away, but on murram roads). Namanga is the border of Kenya and Tanzania, but a stop for petrol is not the best decision if you have a travel van. We get hit with high pressure Masai saleswomen – who I had read about but never met – they have very aggressive sales tactics aimed at tourists with dollars. They all chatter and take turns to persuade you to buy their trinkets – pressing beads or amulets to your arms or chest and refusing to take them back, saying they are gifts. Yeah, right!

On into no-man’s land at the border. You have to fill out a departure form on the Kenya side and an arrival form on the tanzania side – all in a space of a 100 metres.

On both sides, there are border ‘fixers’ who are residents of this zone, and who traverse both country offices on foot helping people crossing with bureaucracy, currency, tax difficulties. If you don’t use them, it can take over an hour to cross, with most of the delay comes from the insurance requirement for every personal vehicle at the border.

The Kenya side is the domain of Somali businessmen and they have imposed their law here; it’s like a mini-Eastleigh, clean, orderly, no alcohol, but with tea houses and many super-markets with names like Libaan, Dubai, Taafrik, Mubarak, and Mandera.

The trans-border business acumen of Somali business people is something to be admired as even people in Dubai and China shop and collect their gods from Eastleigh. One day, after the political temperature has gone down, some local university should offer business classes on Somali, Kikuyu and Hindu business, trade, and management models -with business cases to study. I’d pay to attend that class

Namanga is also a mark of contract for two countries, and Kenya loses this time. The Tanzania side of the border is also clean and air-conditioned. But the pen’s to fill out forms actually work and there is an eye-scan device for those requiring Tanzanian visa’s. Once you step into Tanzania side, it’s like you stepped in to coast province, with many buildings having Makuti (coconut thatch)roofs.

Also you can now buy roast tilapia fish and the chips are more generous and healthier than those on the Kenya side, with more drink varieties (Heineken, Pepsi).And that’s a day at the border

7 thoughts on “The Road to Namanga

  1. Nandi

    Loved the post!
    Bwana Bankelele, could you do a post on buying property in Kenya? You touched on an area where you think prices would appreciate in the future. For some of us non-Kenyans, that information would be invaluable. Asante.

  2. egm

    Nice writeup. Last time I did this trip was over a decade ago. It would be nice to do it again and see how different things are now from back then.

  3. coldtusker

    I think the Tanzanians will (& should) take advantage of Kenya’s political travails to promote themselves as a safer hub to do business.

    It was Kenya who could (& did for a while) have benefited from the problems in E & C Africa.

  4. Simon Fraser

    I used to do the Namanga crossing regularly for almost 7 years. It was great to read about it here, even though it was such a nuisance to do all the paperwork at the time.
    The Kenyan side hadn’t changed at all the last time I was there 2 years ago, but TZ had obviously spent a bit of money and it had become quite polished and efficient.
    I’m all nostalgic now.

    Peace to Kenya

  5. bankelele

    Nandi: thanks, will work on some real estate posts pieces shortly

    EGM: I’d like to do one to western kenya, but maybe in a few weeks to ‘spot the differences’

    Concept: I was shocked. Only ‘uncle Sam’ could have saved me.

    Coldtusker: I have been thinking about that over the last week. Tz certainly is resource rich and with so much untapped potential. But there are also ‘ghosts’ of Kenya – phantom companies and a phobia of Kenyans as investors

    Adrian: thanks

    Simon Fraser: Thanks, The TZ side was impressive, but disporportionate. The immigration side has been computerised, but the vehicle registrars is still manual and slow

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