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Sleepy Aramaget: West Pokot's 'first town' now a shell of its former self

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A view of dilapidated buildings in Aramaget, the first town in West Pokot County, on May 28, 2024.

Photo credit: Oscar Kakai| Nation

Aramaget slum sits on 10 acres of land next to Kapenguria prisons, two kilometres from West Pokot County headquarters.

For locals, this shanty town in Kapenguria Sub-county holds fond memories of what was once West Pokot's first cherished 'town'.

Its existence dates back to the 1920s as the region's first trading centre, when people flocked there for all sorts of activities.

Aramaget, once bustling, now stands abandoned. Residents fled en masse following a surge of violent crime that gripped the town. 

Photo credit: Oscar Kakai| Nation

The historic shanty town, dotted with dilapidated mud-walled structures, once drove the local economy in a vibrant atmosphere created by exuberant traders.

Today, however, Aramaget lies silent, abandoned and dilapidated.

Now, signs of poverty and dilapidated buildings under the cover of rusted, torn iron sheets welcome you to the town.

The buildings that were once shops stand in rows, a sign of the lost prosperity.
Its dirty streets are punctuated by a destroyed tarmac road.

The once smooth tarmac road has turned into a patchwork of potholes and crumbling asphalt in Aramaget, West Pokot County, on May 28, 2024.

Photo credit: Oscar Kakai| Nation

Over the years, sleepy Aramaget has become a hub for criminals and alcohol dens. The once vibrant shops are now cheap apartments.

For the locals, Aramaget is an ironic story, a sad reminder that modernisation does not always bring development.

Even with the new Kapenguria prisons nearby and new buildings such as the Early Childhood Education Centre built by the county government, it has failed to revive its fortunes.

Nation.Africa was able to track down some elders and residents who are familiar with the history of Aramaget.

They recalled that shops and clubs began to close as people gradually disappeared from the streets.

According to Pokot elders, Aramaget's reputation surpassed that of the present-day townships of Makutano and Kapenguria. It had been boosted by the establishment of the district headquarters in Kapenguria, they revealed.

The first person at the trading centre was an old man called Arap Maket from the Sengwer community of the Talai clan, who had seven wives and owned the first club called Kukui Maket, Pokot Council of Elders chairperson John Muok told Nation.Africa.

Muok, a former paramount chief, said Indians and Arabs used to sell goods at the market.

An Arab, Mohammed Calib, whose family is still in Kapenguria, set up the first posho mill in the centre in 1947, he said.

Calib owned a Chevrolet car, he recalled.

Among the Indians who came to Aramaget was Hugh Patel, who set up a branch of his Kitale town business at the centre in 1949.

“Patel had a lorry that used to transport people to and from Aramaget. Other Indians like Makalila and Parsodo also arrived,” recalled Muok.

Muok, who was a student at Kapenguria Government School (GS) in 1946, said there was a Busaa liquor club in the centre that attracted many people.

“We used to go and make houses at Aramaget using mud during holidays,” he said.

Closed shops in the once bustling town of Aramaget in West Pokot County on 28 May 2024.

Photo credit: Oscar Kakai| Nation

According to the elder, the old market town began to face competition from shopping centres that sprang up along the highway such as Makutano.

Christopher Lonyala, the former mayor of Kapenguria, said people from West Pokot County used to relax at Aramaget because of the Kapenguria Six – Kenya's founding fathers Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kungu Karumba, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia and Ramogi Achieng Oneko – who were arrested on October 20, 1952 after the then Kenya Colony Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, declared a state of emergency. The six were imprisoned there.

“We had three Indians and four white people at Aramaget. A judge at the African court in the area, Jackson Marua, with other government officers used to shop at the centre. Those people who used to build Kapenguria and the District Commissioner's office in 1952 used to stay in Aramaget,” he told Nation.Africa.

Lonyala said that another old man, Krop Cheruiyot, opened shops in Aramaget in 1952.

“Cheruiyot was the first councillor for Siyoi ward in 1964. He teamed up with his business partner Michael Kamarkech,” he narrated.

The elder added that the district commissioner and other government officials used to spend their free time in Aramaget.

“The trading centre had three shops and a hotel,” he said.

Later, the town became the main stage for buses such as Mawingo buses and Subira vehicles.

Another elder, Harrison Loyatum, said the town was affected during the 1992 clashes.

“Many Kikuyus who had set up businesses in the town were evicted and the businesses collapsed,” he said.

Loyatum said that after Kapenguria Hospital was established, the town moved to the Bendera area.

“There is also no space for development, and the non-operational ECDE teachers college could have helped Aramaget town to grow. Elders like Tomena, who was the chief of Mnagei, Kibutusi, Kamarkec, John Kaguo, and Kanyongi in the early 30s made the town to thrive,” he said.

One resident, Ochuoda Owino, said Aramaget can still grow if the government revamps it as a historical town.

“Those who were here between 1920 and 1930 will be surprised if they come back. Those who remained were unable to revive it, and everything collapsed. We need the town to be developed,” he said.

A view of dilapidated buildings in Aramaget, the first town in West Pokot County, on May 28, 2024.


Photo credit: Oscar Kakai| Nation

Residents attribute the death of the town to increased crime and the presence of illegal brews.

“It is hard to believe that on any ordinary day years back, this was an atmosphere of wild shouting from traders, bargaining buyers, and residents going about their business, which made Aramaget one of the busiest shopping centres in the larger West Pokot,” said Charles Krop, a resident.

He said Aramaget was littered with ghost shopping centres that were once beacons of a thriving economy and prospects. “Most of the traders who used to run shops in these centres have since moved on,” he added.

Irene Chebet, who owns the last remaining shop, said a spate of robberies had driven the last traders out of town. She cuts a lonely figure in her shop. 

“Before I opened my shop in 2020, this centre was deserted,” Chebet said.

“It takes me three days to sell 10 loaves of bread and I often have to spend cold nights inside the shop to keep thieves away. Most of my customers are prison warders.”

There is hope for Aramaget's revival and West Pokot Governor Simon Kachapin has said he has an ambitious plan to make it happen.

"We will soon issue title deeds to the people so that they can start developing the town. We need vehicles to come to Aramaget and people to start new businesses," he said.