By Wagema Mwangi
On a sunny April morning in 2011, a Mombasa trader, Mr. Joseph Aluda, arrived in Voi town to inspect a 0.08 hectare plot he wanted to buy. The land was located at Kasarani area, some three kilometres Southeast of Voi town. What he saw didn’t impress him.
The land was a nondescript piece of dirt, overgrown with shrubs. It was also too isolated. His would-be-neighbors were few, scattered and far apart. The owner was asking for Sh.150, 000.
Mr. Aluda dismissed the price. Except for the closeness to Nairobi-Mombasa Highway some three hundred meters away, there was nothing else to warrant such a cost.
In retrospect, he admits that he should have bought the land while he had a chance. Today, a similar plot is selling at a minimum of Sh900, 000 and failure to buy the plot stills haunts him.
“I thought the amount was too much. I was wrong. I should have realized I was buying a gold mine,” he said.
His regret is understandable as land prices in Voi have tripled over the last five years.
Land experts agree the sudden sharp surge in prices is a direct result of many multi-million capital intensive projects currently being undertaken in the region.
In what many term as a coincidental convergence of development projects, Voi town is reaping big from the projects by the Government. The projects are expected to transform the idyllic town into a major commercial hub.
Chief among the projects is Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project. Designers of the 454-long railway earmarked Voi as host to the third-largest station along Mombasa-Nairobi route.
The station, currently under construction, is an imposing and sprawling mammoth structure of concrete, glass and stone. It is occupies over five acres of land at Kasarani, approximately a hundred meters from the highway.
Already, a vast number of residential houses and business premises are coming up in the neighborhood of SGR station.
Land prices in the area are running into millions per acre. Investors are setting up hotels, restaurants, shops and pubs along the area. Most anticipate that once operational, the train station and resultant activities will boost businesses in the area.
The construction industry is booming with hundreds of local residents employed.
The experts say the galloping prices will continue as the full potential of opportunities offered by the projects in Voi town are unveiled.
Mr. James Ngiriri, a Lands’ officer, says the upward spiral of prices is not likely to slow down.
He adds that a 50ft by 100ft land parcel used to sell at Sh.180, 000 three years ago and is now selling at a minimum of Sh.400, 000 and 500,000. In other areas with close proximity to Voi town, the same size is going up to between Sh.800, 000 and a million shillings. “In areas with title deeds, buyers offered a quotation of one million shillings,” he said.
In Voi CBD, plots are selling for as high as Sh.30 million. The price depends of the level of development, location and availability of a title deed.
A prominent trader in the town bought a mid-town plot at Sh.35 million for construction of a business premise.
A landowner, Ms. Khadija Masabo, says an investor can buy an eighth of an acre is at Sh.800, 000, arguing the potential presented by SGR is simply phenomenal. She notes that after realizing the potential of land, the local residents are now demanding for higher prices.
“An acre is not going for anything less than two million shillings in the outskirts of Voi town,” she said.
Mr. Patrick Gitau, an investor, says most people have taken calculated risks to buy and build. He predicts that a lot of business will shift from Voi town stage to Kasarani SGR station.
He opines that most passengers will be using SGR. Business thereby will now shift from town which is served by buses to Kasarani area which will be served by train.
“I expect the passenger volumes to dip in Voi town and increase in Kasarani. We are preparing for that,” he said.
The rise of the busy town is credited to its strategic location along the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway.
It also sits at Taveta-Mombasa junction. Most major bus companies have offices in the town. The busy highway has given Voi town a 24-hour economy where traders, shops, hotels and taxi drivers operate throughout the night to serve passengers and other clients who arrive in town at night.
The SGR is expected to add to this booming night business.
The land boom has also been brought about by the near-completion of Arusha/Holili-Taveta-Voi Highway. The vital link multinational project will be completed by June this year.
Jointly funded by Africa Development Bank (ADB) and GOK at a cost of Sh.8.2 billion, the 89-km road has been under construction since 2014.
The completion of the road means that most cargo bound for Holili and Arusha from Mombasa will utilize this road. The increased traffic offers opportunities for traders with truck drivers and other passenger using the route.
Major buses like Modern Coast have already started plying Voi-Taveta route. The road will cut travelling distance from Mombasa to Arusha by two hours.
Observers note that Voi town will expand along the road towards Mwatate town, some 18 km away. This is due to availability of open land where development projects can be launched. At Vindo, located on the Voi-Mwatate road, an eighth of an acre is going for Sh.400, 000. In 2014, the same size of land was selling at sixty thousand shillings.
“The value of land is not what it used to be. It’s going up,” says Ngiriri.
The boom has extended to areas in Mbololo where Ikanga airstrip is nearing completion. The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) is rehabilitating the airstrip at the cost of Sh.60 million. Once complete, chartered flights will be launched for visitors touring Tsavo National Park.
An acre of land at Ikanga is selling for over Sh. 2 million. In 2012, an acre was selling at between Sh.300, 000 and half a million shillings.
Mr. Ngiriri says the more anticipated projects would push the land prices from the reach of most people.
Already, Kenya National Highway Authority (KeNHA) is doing a feasibility study on expansion of Nairobi-Mombasa Highway into a dual-carriage.
The expansion is expected to increase the traffic on the road twofold. Plans have also been mooted to establish a mini dry port in Voi town for goods bound to Tanzania and Central African regions. With such projects on the way, the region is set to have a high influx of investors. Growth of businesses and other opportunities are set to keep growing.
It remains to be seen if the full effect of this land boom will positively impact on the living standards for hundreds of residents.