Miwani Sugar Factory signage.

| Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

McMansions rise from the gloom of Miwani sugar country

The uneasy drive on the rugged and abandoned 27km road from Kisumu to Miwani is a stark reminder of how the collapse of Kenya’s pioneer sugar miller of the same name has ruined the fortunes of the sugar belt.

As you gaze over thousands of acres of fallow nucleus and out-grower farms, you would be forgiven for thinking that the area has been deserted by residents who adopted alternative livelihoods.

Miwani Sugar Factory signage.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

But behind the unkempt sugarcane plantations and the dilapidated roads leading to vast farms along the stretch lies a big contrast.

While the poor here continue to live in abject poverty, some wealthy Kenyans are opting to build multimillion-shilling mansions in the tranquil neighbourhood.

Dan Opollo, who worked as a field supervisor at the fallen giant miller, says things have taken a drastic turn since the factory ground to a halt in 2001.

Mr. Dan Opolo, a resident of Miwani at his house on this photo taken on July 5, 2021.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

“The closure of Miwani Sugar Company signalled the beginning of poverty in this region. Residents have been turned into beggars and have become peasant farmers trying to make ends meet,” he says.

School dropouts

Over two decades later, he says school dropout rates have increased tremendously while crime is rising alarmingly.

“In every three homes here in Othoche village, there’s a child who has had to drop out of school for lack of school fees,” he says.

“There is lots of time with little to do for hundreds of youth who drop out of school and are not meaningfully engaged.”

Dilapidated residential buildings along Miwani Road.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

At the former factory, not much remains of the old glamour and the corroded roofing on the old buildings and rusting metal tell a sad tale.

Warning signs for workers, who vanished aeons ago, still stand.

“Most locals are enduring their ordeal in silence and are pegging their hope on the planned revival of Miwani Sugar,” says Mr Opollo, the Miwani branch Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers chairman.

Super-rich

But in the middle of the doom and gloom, Mr Opollo says the super-rich from Western Kenya have found a home in the area with a battered railway and road network.

Some of the prominent people who have built palatial houses in the area are Raju Chatthe, the chairman of Kibos Sugar and Allied Industries Ltd and Makini Group of Schools founder Mary Okello.

Though it has seen better days, the opulent residence owned by former Miwani Sugar managing director Magahbai Hindocha on the border of Nandi and Kisumu counties still stands and reinforces the notion that Miwani is an ideal location to build your dream home.

Magahbai’s father, Devji Hindocha, who arrived in Kenya with experience from Kakira Sugar Company in Uganda - where he was a partner - bought Miwani Sugar mills in 1947 and moved with his family to the area.

A drive along the Mamboleo-Muhoroni road further reveals exclusive driveways leading to the foot of the Nandi Hills.

From a distance, the homes surrounded by majestic trees offer a refreshing feeling as you make your way through the seemingly abandoned and weathered road.

One of the palatial homes in Miwani area.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

Joseph Ouma, from Sidho, says most of the houses started coming up between 2005 and 2015.

“Most of the landowners are businessmen and those from the Asian community,” he says.

As the jostling for the prime area intensifies, Mr Ouma cautioned residents against being exploited by people who would want to take advantage of their desperate situation.

“Our members have to be careful not to be deceived by the rush for quick money and sell their parcels at throwaway prices,” he says.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.