Maralal town in Samburu County is one of the most underdeveloped urban towns in Kenya.
It is so remote that in its outskirts, sometimes mobile phones develop network problems because of the limited number of telecommunication masts.
However, the town is not lifeless. Livestock trade thrives, with Kenya’s cities –Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa and Kisumu- receiving flock from the town.
Animals are sold to buyers who transport them by lorries thus making Maralal a busy trading centre.
However, the potential of Maralal town becoming a business hub is yet to be fully exploited because of the bad roads in the area.
And now pastoralists and the business community have their hopes dashed as the construction of key artery Naibor-Suguta-Maralal tarmac road is delayed.
When President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Samburu County in March, he assured locals he would return to open the key road in August.
But the proposed deadline expired four months ago with much work not yet done and the much-anticipated road may not be ready anytime soon despite the President’s earlier assurance.
There was hope that the road would be completed by August to eradicate the problems facing the business community besides boosting the economic status of Maralal town.
In its design, the Sh2.6 billion road is meant to connect Maralal and boost trading of farm produce in the agriculture-rich counties of Nakuru, Nyandarua and Laikipia.
The new road is also expected to open up the northern Kenya tourist circuit.
The Jubilee government is in a race to complete the multi-billion shilling tarmac road project as President Kenyatta seeks to cement his legacy in the semi-arid region ahead of his exit next year.
When complete the Naibor-Suguta-Maralal tarmac road will join the main artery roads to open up Samburu into a trade hub for the business community in northern Kenya.
Samburu County Governor Moses Lenolkulal asked President Kenyatta to fast track unfinished projects in the county to benefit locals.
He pointed out the construction of the Naibor-Suguta-Maralal tarmac road and Yamo Dam project as the key projects that are yet to be completed.
Before his retirement
"We are happy with the projects that have been initiated in the county by the national government. However, they are incomplete and that is why we urge the President to fast track them before his retirement," Mr Lenolkulal said.
According to the county boss, once complete, the key artery highway is set to put Samburu on the national map.
Meanwhile, local businessmen also believe the construction of the project is a sign of good things to come, as the devolved unit bets on the historical project to spur county growth.
Investors say it will create opportunities in the real estate sector, once complete.
Samburu County Investors Forum Chairperson Joe Mithamo noted that the road, when complete, will be a game-changer and a major lifeline for investors and residents of Samburu county.
"The road has delayed and that is a blow. We hope it will be completed in time next year because it will be a game-changer. If complete, the project will facilitate better and faster transport in areas traversed by the road and boost economic and social interactions. This will potentially open up the area to local and international tourists," Mithamo said.
According to him, the 65-kilometre road will cut by half the time it currently takes from Nakuru to the northern region and reduce the cost of ferrying farm produce from the agriculture-rich counties.
Many investors are eyeing several sectors including the hospitality industry where they intend to put up hotels, lodges and camping sites.
More investors have in the past been scouting for space to put up petrol stations and shops.
The Posta-Suguta-Maralal (65km) phase is 85 percent complete, according to the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha).
Mr Mithamo said the transformative construction of tarmac road has already attracted new businesses and turned Maralal town into an investors' dream.
Dozens of shopping centres and mini-markets are sprouting in Maralal and other interior parts with entrepreneurs striving to meet the housing demand for the growing number of workers.
Several new hospitality establishments have upped the stake for the growth of the county as a tourism destination.
"Entrepreneurs want to invest here because now the county has been opened up. Expansive shops and hotels have mushroomed as investors capitalise on ease of movement provided by the tarmacked road to access Samburu. There is the ease of transportation now unlike before when goods could take up to three days," Mithamo said.
The privatisation of communal land in the region has also led to increased production and attracted investors with pastoralists now able to lease their land in the wake of increased economic investments in Maralal.
Land prices have tripled along the Rumuruti-Maralal route as the Sh2.6 billion road takes shape.
Some 37 kilometres of the road are in Samburu county while the remaining 28 are in Laikipia county.