Emali town is a small town that lies along the Northern Corridor, in both Makueni and Kajiado Counties. A larger commercial part of the town lies in Makueni County while the section in Kajiado County is predominantly for residential use. The Mombasa - Kampala Railway and now the Standard Gauge Railway act as town’s border of Kajiado and Makueni County.
Just like many other towns along the Northern corridor, Emali has a weak economic base, mainly reliant of transit traffic and hinterland traffic. But how do visitors perceive the town? My first impression was a small town for a quick healthy grocery and gas stopover from the long distance travelled from Mombasa or Nairobi. The sight of the grocery stores stuffed with Onions and watermelons -which are my favourite fruits- not to mention the upcoming developments in the towns was quite impressive.
I have passed through Emali enough times on my way to Mombasa or Nairobi and didn’t have much to say about it, however, after spending 4 days in this town during the reconnaissance visit. I realized the potential and challenges that the town hides within its walls. First, the town has a rich history that dates back to 1890s during the railway construction. With a station set up in this town, it became a stopover for travellers going to upcountry as well as Mombasa and Nairobi. Following this, it became a trading area for both Maasai and Kamba community who live in Makueni and Kajiado County respectively. To this date, traces of the historical architecture are evident for victoria house typology houses around the railway station in Emali. The railway housing have seen been demolished to pave way to the new Standard Gauge Railway Station in the Town.
To this date, the town has continued to grow economically. Actually, a chat with few business owners in this town, implied they wouldn’t want to do business elsewhere besides Emali. They love and value the town for it's potential. For example, the Chairman for Bar Associations in Emali said, he believes Emali is the green pasture for business. To this end, the town has recovered from the shock of demolition in 2014 and all prospects for growth can be seen with big chain new comers especially Nakumatt and Peter Mulei’s in the retail frontier. As much as this can be qualified as progress, a lot of questions linger on how local business would perform amidst these high competitions considering that no policies exist to protect local business in the county.
As a recent planning graduate student, I couldn’t help but notice the towns potential by my own observations as well as conversations with the residents and business persons. The town is very energetic both day and night, standard gauge railway, extensive land for expansion and development of industries in Emali, new wave for financial entities, hotels and big retail businesses. One could argue out that the town is a bomb waiting to explode for the better.
At the moment besides commercial, residential is the second dominant land use in the town. The residential building typologies have a mix of commercial at the front end and residential at the back. These houses have the commercial facing the road and the residential units on the inside plots, with an inward looking design. Each house has the space within as a shared space for cooking, drying clothes and socializing. The bathrooms and toilets are located at the extreme end of the houses. Few have water points as such they relay on water vendors for water.
Businesswise, Emali goes beyond the highway, in fact, the only vibrant business most along the Highway is the grocery selling, which stretches up to 200m from the start of the slip road near Kilome Nursing Home to Nakumatt Supermarket near the Oloitokitok Junction. On the other hand, the slip road behind the A104 could now be described as “Emali town”, this section is where heavy trucks park and business is vibrant. It stretches from the car wash close to Nakumatt Supermarket to Blay Petrol Station. Although, most of the sections are busy, the busiest part is from Kenya Women’s Finance Trust to the Blay Petrol Station. The area is characterised by array of businesses ranging from small businesses (Second hand clothes, bars, retail shops) to big businesses like the Sky Hotel. This is likely to change once the bus-park opens up shops facing the slip road.
From talking to people, this is the newest point of the town, while the old being areas are around the railway and Catholic Church. The old area is now which characterised by old demolished buildings. This section was vibrant when the old railway station was in action but after its activities reduced the section died off. However, with the SGR this section of the town could be brought back to life.
Besides these, there is potential with the JuaKali Park. The JuaKali Park occupies a 5 acres piece of land. The potential of the area was fascinating but from the look of things, business is down and most artisans have opted to do business out of the park. The pointed a couple of challenges to the poor business including poor power connection and lack of security lighting which pose a threat to their business. I couldn’t help imagine how much potential the park had and how that potential can be harnessed to boost local revenue, provide employment and improve the quality of life.
The town with no doubts has underlying challenges namely, the wind and red dust, sanitation and solid waste management. The red dust in town is on another level, painting the town red at any time. In my 3 days in the town there were three substantial whirlwinds and considering that most of the land adjacent to town is bear it was impossible to walk for a second. In addition, sanitation levels are wanting. Most house owners reticulate wastewater from wash areas to the streets. Lastly, the town doesn’t have a designated solid waste management strategy thus the common habit in the town is that people are dumping wastes at the ends of the roads within the estates near the railway buffer zone.
Emali town has a lot to be desired. Proper forward planning can make the town more competitive and vibrant along this major highway.
By Eric Muiruri,