Life in Makindu

Published on 19th July 2005

The African Executive visited Makindu town, situated 70 Kms away from Sultan Hamud along the Nairobi Mombasa highway, in Makueni District. Mr. Malombe, a small holder farmer who doubles up as a boda boda cyclist shares some insights on his home town.

Q. What explains the phenomena of this town being dull during the day but very active at night?

A. As you may have noticed, there are hundreds of huge trucks, tankers and trailers that pack here in the evenings. Drivers on transit use this as a resting point as the law stipulates that heavy commercial vehicles should not travel beyond seven o’clock in the night. These convoys light up the night life of this town as they eat, drink, dance and socialize.

Q. What explains the presence of numerous women I saw in town last night?

A. Business. Those women entertain truck drivers in exchange of money for livelihood.

Q. What keeps this town ticking?

A. The town is mainly dependent on the food, entertainment and accommodation industry. That is why any visitor will notice scores of restaurants, bars and lodgings here. The food, entertainment and accommodation business chiefly relies on the truck drivers.

Q. I was amazed indeed to taste tender maize in one of the restaurants! How does the food industry bloom seeing that this is an exceptionally hot and dusty place?

A. Just across the road, about four kilometers away from this town is some farmland. The locals call it “pumziko” a Swahili word for rest.

Q. Would you mind showing me the place?

A. No. Let’s get moving

Q. It’s quite hot and dusty. How do you people survive in this scorching heat and clouds of dust?

A. You don’t solve a problem by running away from it. You have to face the problem and prevail over it!

Q. I can see parcels of well prepared land, in readiness for planting. Why do people do this in spite of no signs of rains?

A. You may not believe it but this land was tilled a year ago in anticipation of rain however, ever since, no rain has descended.

Q. I can start seeing green, a sign of life. Could we be approaching “pumziko?”

A. Yes. In a short while we shall be there.

Q. Pumziko at last! All kinds of foodstuffs: beans, maize, kales, tomatoes, chilies, pumpkins, bananas, cowpeas, pawpaws. Name them. They are here. Who owns these plots?

A. Some local residents own them. A majority are however rented by outsiders. One outsider has employed over 200 locals to take care of his plots.

Q. Where are all the donkey drawn carts taking jerry cans full of water?

A. This farmland is watered by Makindu River. Local residents draw water from this river to go and sell in the town hotels, accommodation lodges and for domestic use.

Q. Why are they standing in the same water they are drawing? It doesn’t look clean. Is it boiled before use in the town?

A. I have no idea.

Q. What is the major problem facing the Makindu community?

A. Lack of rainfall. Many rivers here are seasonal. As a result of lack of rain, farming is very difficult. As demonstrated by this tiny farmland that feeds the entire town, if we had access to water, this region would have been quite vibrant. The finance institutions here are afraid to invest in farmers prompting outsiders who have capital and are able to purchase farm inputs, to take over the agricultural process. It is hard to come by an agricultural extension officer here. The last time I saw one was four years ago. I called one to come and examine my sick cow but he didn’t come. When I reminded him afterwards he said he had no fare to come to my place. My animal passed away. I think the government has lopsided priorities. Not far away from Makindu is a town called Kiboko. There is a vast land that is green here. It is said that the place has a raised water table. What has the government done? It has driven out people and declared it a Kenya Wildlife Society reserve. Who is more important? Wild animals or people? There are very few seed shops in the outskirts of town hence it is difficult for some farmers to access seeds since they have to cover long distances to the seed source. When it is planting and harvesting time, most people capitalize on our ignorance by selling us fake seeds and pesticides.

Q. Are your politicians aware of this?

A. Politicians never visit us here. If they do, they are out to fulfill their agenda. They however show up technically during calamities as if we elected them to be our insurance during such times. During severe droughts, they coerce the government to give us some food aid. TV Cameras are then marshaled to this place to take pictures of households receiving two kilograms of maize meal, meant to take us through two months. What is two kilograms of maize meal for a family of eight? Some of this food never trickles down to us. We just hear it is at the D.Os office and the story ends there. Politics has failed in this region. I don’t think politicians want us to triumph over problems, for if we did what message would they have during campaigns. The more we harbor problems, the more we are vulnerable to their handouts and empty rhetoric. Look at the road leading to the District Commissioner’s office. It is impassible. We always have to keep on repairing it and charge a fee from the motorists. Recently, one government official was asked our plight during famine. He replied that we had no crisis whilst we were starving! We don’t want short term interventions.

Q. What is your way forward?

A. Pumziko. Let us be helped to have water for irrigation and we shall ask for no more. We are hardworking. We shall be able to feed ourselves and have rest. As I said earlier, we have no need of stop gap remedies

We have suffered for long. It is time that the government and NGOs asked us what we need instead of providing services that they feel we need. The constituency Development Fund committee for example is sidelining the town planners and operating at the whims of politicians who are always suspicious of what the locals need. We require rising beyond politics and doing things that will uplift everyone’s economic standards. Give us water and leave us alone.

Makindu is endowed with magicians of repute who can turn someone’s face to look backwards. Election candidates always consult the magicians to determine their fate. People, including Europeans from overseas, come from all over East Africa to partake of these charms. These charms can stop a speeding tanker on the middle of the road. Through the charms, barren women have put children to bed; Romeos have found their Juliets; Thieves have stood transfixed like statues on the scene of crime. There is need to organize a conference for people with these powers to brainstorm on how to harness the powers for the good of the Mkamba especially in rain provision.

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