Why Makutano town in Meru never sleeps

Makutano Town Meru

A view of the roundabout in Makutano where the Meru-Maua and Meru-Nanyuki roads converge. The trading centre, some 2 kilometres from Meru town, operates 24 hours a day. .

Photo credit: David Muchui I Nation Media Group

When the 112-year-old Meru town goes to sleep as early as 6pm, its offshoot, Makutano shopping centre, positioned about two kilometres west, comes to life.

While Meru town’s central business district gets dull and silent after traders close shop, Makutano gets noisy and busy as all sorts of business people jostle for space in its streets.

Here, those in the business of bars, restaurants, butcheries, chemists, guest houses, lodgings and nightclubs thrive. There are scores of these joints, with more than 10 nightclubs.

Makutano and its environs also host up to 10 hotels, including the star-rated Three Steers.

In the last 10 years, Makutano has gradually grown into a busy trading centre, with second-hand clothes retailers thronging the streets on Sunday evenings.

As the night falls, Makutano gets busy, with traders laying down their wares along the roads and street food hawkers lining up the length of the centre with all manner of food, including mutura, samosa, roasted maize, kuku choma, chapati, chips, dawa and coffee to down them with.

When some of the retail shop owners close for the night, call girls line up the veranda along the Meru-Maua road.

Makutano town first businesses

A view of the first three shops built in Makutano as early as the 1950s.

Photo credit: David Muchui I Nation Media Group

At sunset, daytime workers at the lodgings that litter Makutano are eager to end their shift to add on to their nocturnal colleagues. Music gets louder in the nightclubs.

Even as the day grows weary, you will comfortably stroll Makutano’s streets in the wee hours of the night.

Besides the dark side of the town, churches also thrive here, many seeking to ‘sanitise’ Meru’s sin city.

Makutano borrows its name from a busy junction where the Meru-Nanyuki and the Meru-Maua roads meet. It stands in proximity to Meru National Polytechnic, with over 10,000 students, Kenya Methodist University with over 8,000 students and three top secondary schools.

Originally known as Kinoru, Makutano’s story begins in the 1950s when some land owners built three wooden shops. The three shops are still standing next to a public toilet near the junction.

According to Mr Nkonge M’Inoti, a resident and Njuri Ncheke secretary in North Imenti, the area where Makutano sits was initially coffee farms.

Nkonge M'Inoti

Mr Nkonge M'Inoti, a resident and landlord in Makutano, Meru shows the first plots to be allotted by the County Council in the 1970s.

Photo credit: David Muchui I Nation Media Group

His father was one of the pioneer businessmen in Makutano, having operated a retail shop from the 1960s.

It was not until the 1970s that the Meru county council allotted a few plots to residents for commercial development.

“In fact, my plot, which was developed by my father, is one of the first three allotted by the county council in the 1970s. The fact that

Makutano is located at the junction leading to Maua, the home of miraa, Nanyuki and Isiolo, the gateway to the north, triggered rapid growth,” Mr M’Inoti says.

Rev Douglas Muriungi, a resident, says the location of Makutano close to several learning institutions and Kinoru Stadium, which hosted major meetings before and after independence, also triggered the growth.

“The presence of Meru Technical College and Meru Teachers College drew in a young population who needed residential and social amenities. The coming of Kenya Methodist University and the upgrading of Meru Technical Training College into a national polytechnic gave the area a 24-hour economy,” Rev Muriungi says.

Samuel Gitonga, who runs a 24-hour restaurant in Makutano, came here 20 years ago as a chicken hawker and his fortunes have changed just like his host town.

“When I came to Makutano in 2002, the place was dusty and insecure. Business was not as good due to insecurity. Things changed with devolution. Business is good here because we are open 24 hours,” Mr Gitonga says.

Mr Nkonge M'Inoti (Left) and Rev Douglas Muriungi (R)

Mr Nkonge M'Inoti (Left) and Rev Douglas Muriungi (R) who are residents of Makutano Meru, during an interview with Nation.

Photo credit: David Muchui I Nation Media Group

The Makutano fresh produce market chairperson says the presence of many visitors out to explore Makutano’s nightlife makes it tick.

He says students from neighbouring higher learning institutions have also ventured into small businesses, making it more vibrant at night.

“At night, we serve travellers, visitors who come due to cheap accommodation and residents. According to my recent tally, there are more than 500 resident traders selling their wares on the streets of Makutano every evening,” he says.

Makutano is expected to get a new face with the planned dualling of the Meru-Nanyuki and Meru-Maua roads, totaling 13.8km, for Sh12 billion.
 

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