Ndaragwa: Nyandarua town whose lunch is eaten by others

abandoned ndaragwa market

Traders at Ndaragwa market.

Photo credit: Waikwa Maina | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • For residents like Sammy King’ori, who have witnessed the passage of time within its confines, Ndaragwa's story is one of unfulfilled promise. 
  • Mr Peter Kagwe, the area MCA also grew up in this small town, says its growth has stagnated in the 40 years he has known it.

Ndaragwa town in Nyandarua County, established during the colonial era in 1955, stands as a testament to Kenya's historical roots.

However, despite its rich history and heritage, the town finds itself at a crossroad.

Hindered by neglect and minimal development efforts from successive governments, Ndaragwa's potential remains largely untapped despite harbouring immense growth opportunities. 

 Ndaragua Twin Falls in Ndaragua town.

Photo credit: Waikwa Maina | Nation Media Group

The seven-decade-old town has defied growth opportunities, and stagnated, with minimal efforts by successive governments to revamp it.

Those who grew up within the township say it has mostly remained the same ever since they were young children. 

Natural beauty 

Located about 150 kilometres from Nairobi, the small town is surrounded by Ndaragwa Forest, an extension of the Aberdare Ranges, giving it breathtaking natural scenery.

The surroundings have a rich cultural heritage, enticing hills, scenic waterfalls, with picturesque landscapes suitable for hiking, all making it a solid tourist attraction, but that potential remains largely unexploited.

It has a rich colonial history, Mau Mau caves, and detention camps just a few kilometres away, but most of them have either been neglected, or ignorantly destroyed by the community settled in the area under a settlement scheme by the Jomo Kenyatta government.

For residents like Sammy King’ori, who have witnessed the passage of time within its confines, Ndaragwa's story is one of unfulfilled promise.

“I have known the town for over 20 years but nothing has changed. Traders are shifting to neighbouring Jikaze town in Laikipia county and Mairo-ini, a town in Nyandarua, due to the poor state of the town and neglect, yet the town is strategically located surrounded by rich tourism attraction sites such as Twin Falls, the town has a lot to offer to travelers,” said Mr King’ori. 

Road network

He says investors need to be encouraged with a conducive environment, to partner with the locals, while the county government should improve on drainage and road networks to make the town habitable.

“Jikaze town which is among the busiest in Laikipia county has been developed by Ndaragwa residents. Jikaze is eating Ndaragwa's lunch, aware of these facts, even financial institutions whose origin is Nyandarua like Tower Sacco and Nyala have opened branches there to serve Ndaragwa residents from Jikaze,” says Mr King’ori.

Other iconic areas include the now vandalised Kihara alarm clock in a colonial farm, Aberdare White Camp House, wildlife in the Ndaragwa Forest, and the fact that it is the birthplace of the late Nobel Prize Winner and conservationist Professor Wangari Maathai before shifting to Tetu in Nyeri County.

Mr Peter Kagwe, the area MCA also grew up in this small town, says its growth has stagnated in the 40 years he has known it.

"The biggest challenge is that the town is not gazetted and is squeezed between the forest with no expansion land," he explains.

"Decentralisation of the national government through the creation of more sub-counties has also affected the growth of this town," he adds.

Land ownership issues further complicate the town's development, with many residents and public institutions lacking title deeds.

The absence of clear land tenure has stalled progress and deterred potential investors, leaving Ndaragwa trapped in a cycle of stagnation.

The town sits on 30 acres of land but less than 50 percent of the landowners have title deeds. 

abandoned ndaragwa market

Part of the Sh24 million Ndaragwa market, which was abandoned.

Photo credit: Waikwa Maina | Nation Media Group

"We have been pushing to have the town gazetted and locals given the land ownership documents. Most of the private landowners, and county and national government offices do not have title deeds for the land they occupy. They include the police station and the Sub-county headquarters which were already there when I was born. The catholic church, Ndaragwa hospital, and all community buildings in Ndaragwa do not have land ownership documents,” says the Ward Rep.

He says part of the land occupied by the town was allocated to residents by the late President Moi's government, but owners are yet to be issued with title deeds due to distractive politics.

"We urgently request for the gazettement of the town. Ndaragwa is a perfect destination for nature lovers, it’s a great destination for people looking for a peaceful and calming gateway due to its natural features,” said Mr Kagwe.

Despite these challenges, there remains a glimmer of hope for Ndaragwa's future.

Efforts to expand the town into the surrounding forest have been met with cautious optimism.

In 2020, a plan was approved by relevant government agencies including the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), after decades of pushing by the residents, in an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report.

A report guided by the Survey Plan of 2007 outlines the potential for growth and development, balancing the need for expansion with environmental and cultural preservation.

The final report titled 'Proposed Boundary Variation of the Aberdare (Ndaragwa Block) Forest LN. 48/194' to allow for the expansion of Ndaragwa township in Ndaragwa Sub-county, Nyandarua County, states in part that the old township is fully developed and thus essential public purpose and utilities could not be allocated within this land which is limited space.

Therefore, the expansion of Ndaragwa Township from 38.47 acres to 162.52 acres based on Survey Plan FR 341/63 of 2007 will see the provision of adequate land for essential public utilities infrastructure such as sewage treatment works, sludge disposal facility, public toilets, refuse disposal and social amenities such as housing, schools, vocational institutes, recreational parks, health facilities, religious institutions, and public purpose land us for the police.

Other listed amenities are a bus park and a cemetery, critical facilities not available in Ndaragwa town.

The report, whose lead consultant was Dr Fridah Mugo, says among factors considered by the consultants were if the expansion will endanger any rare, threatened, or endangered species, the effect on water catchment areas, prejudice conservation, cultural sites, protection of the forest or its use for educational, recreational, health or research purposes.

After considering those factors and after public participation forums, Dr Mugo’s team said that although the community wanted 300 acres of the forest land to be part of the town, only 162 acres could be availed.

Governor Moses Kiarie Badilisha of Nyandarua said Ndaragwa possesses all the ingredients for success—a rich history, stunning natural landscapes, and a community eager for change.

The county boss said his administration shares in this vision for the town's revitalisation, emphasising the importance of infrastructure improvements and tourism promotion

“On assuming office, I directed the cultural and social services department and that of tourism to document all historical and tourist attraction sites in Ndaragwa and other parts of the county. We want them gazetted, rehabilitated, protected, and promoted as rich tourist attraction centres.

"The health of our people is a priority of my administration, Ndaragwa Health Centre is undergoing a major facelift to make it a Level Four Hospital, with a modern laboratory, maternity wing, and other critical services,” said the governor.

Locals believe Ndaragwa's story is not just one of struggle and stagnation but also of resilience and possibility and with the right investments, it can reclaim its rightful place as a thriving centre of commerce and culture.