How devolution has changed Tana River

Modern buildings coming in Tana River County's headquarters in Hola Town.

Photo credit: Stephen Odour I Nation

Ten years ago, Tana River was a rusty and dusty district without proper road, phone or radio networks.

Civilization was a story read in history books and told in tales by people who had made it out of the county to the nearby towns of Malindi and Mombasa.

The roads were bad and during rainy seasons, it took two days to travel from Mombasa to Hola, Tana River County’s headquarters, where the tarmac ended, and there the journey on foot began.

The tales of the shifta still linger in the minds of many, old and young. Some of the suspects still live in Tana River while others fled, fearing revenge as civilization kicked in with calm.

Those visiting Tana River in those days had to spend the night in rusty lodgings infested with bedbugs after eating at kiosks.

"We only had three choices of food when you got into town – chapati with beans, matoke with beef or rice and beans originally known as mseto," said trader Shabaan Athman. 

But 10 years after the onset of devolution, the county has been transformed significantly.

From roads to hospitality, devolution has reduced the journey from Mombasa to Hola from two days to seven hours, and guests can now sleep in luxurious hotels.

But the most noticeable is the first ever burger and pizza joint opened in the centre of Hola, the residents can’t have enough of it.

"There are things we never imagined would come this fast, not in 10 years. A burger and pizza joint is a huge stride into civilization," said resident Saida Athman. 

It is a bite that most only used to hear about in the stories of those who had been to big towns. Zuri Burger Joint has residents excited.

For Sh450, one gets to tell a first-hand story of the taste of a burger.

A modern restaurant that recently opened in Hola, Tana River County.

"The opening of this joint gives the weekends a different story. For once, we are talking about dates and picnics because we have something different on the menu," said Asha Hussein.

Zuri manager Bildad Masha said residents are quickly embracing the new menu in town.

"People used to order pizza and burgers from Malindi, which is more than 200km away. Today, they get to make an order that can be delivered in less than 40 minutes," he said.

Mr Masha notes that the joint gets more traffic on weekends, with more than 50 orders going out for home delivery.

Experts note that the county's economy is steadily rising, with improvements in its revenues in the past nine years.

"We have come from collecting Sh30 million in revenue to now Sh70 million. That should tell you we are moving in the right direction and if we continue like this, we will meet our potential in the next five years of devolution," said economist Daud Dahir.

With Tana River encouraging more investment in the hospitality industry and investing in its trade links, the county could be the next frontier for investors.

Governor Dhadho Godhana said the county administration is gearing for greater urbanisation and industrialisation.

"We have lagged for decades and when such places begin to open up, it tells you we are growing and can only focus our resources in growing this sector and inspiring more investments," he said.

More trade partnerships will encourage such businesses and make the economy more vibrant, he said.


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