Why future of major trucker towns hangs in the balance
The future of the once bustling towns, mostly patronised by long-distance truck drivers, has been left hanging in the balance as more truckers test positive for Covid-19.
Fortunes of the trading centres, mostly along major highways, had already changed for the worse following the ban on bars, restaurants, eateries and other entertainment joints with the irresistible aroma of roasted goat meat at Kikopey near Gilgil becoming a distant memory.
Most of the towns which came into being because of the truck drivers’ patronage for drinks, lodgings, meals and the predatory sex workers, as they sought to rest after long hauls, are been reduced to ghost centres.
When the government slapped a ban on all bars, restaurants/eateries and other entertainment joints, the die was cast for the future of the towns.
Strategically located along the Mombasa – Nairobi highway and Nairobi – Kisumu – Busia, Nairobi – Eldoret – Malaba highways the common signature of these towns are swarms of long-distance cargo trucks occupying every available space and sometimes spilling across the highways.
The worst hit and perhaps the largest and most popular of all is Salgaa trading centre, along the Nakuru-Kisumu-Eldoret Highway.
Although it started as a tiny market centre, it has evolved into a major business and budding industrial town.
Just a few kilometres from Gilgil town on the Nairobi – Kisumu Highway is Kikopey, also very popular for its roasted goat meat for travellers plying the highway to and from Nairobi or Mombasa to up-country and neighbouring countries.
On the Mombasa – Nairobi Highway is Mtito Andei with more or less similar attractions particularly to long-distance truck drivers.
However, since the bans, business shrank and with it things on offer such as lodgings, soft drinks and sex workers.
Salgaa Traders Association chairman Peter Kimani said the backbone and lifeline of the centre are the truck drivers who founded it and patronise its bars, restaurants and lodgings.
He said since the closure of these entities by the government business and customers suddenly took a nose dive, a situation that the town had never experienced since it was established in the 1990s.
“We had robust 24-hour businesses, raking in millions of shillings every month, but pandemic-related restrictions are already hurting us badly,” said Kimani.
“The closed bars, restaurants, eateries and entertainment joints do not have any money, but they are stuck with old stock.”
Kimani said their biggest fear is contracting coronavirus as large numbers of their customers are increasingly testing positive of the Covid 19 which means they could easily spread the deadly virus to the local population with devastating consequences.
“Our fear now is that considering most truckers interact with hundreds of sex workers who predate the town, infecting them is easy and the prostitutes could easily spread the disease with expected devastating consequences,” he said.
At the beginning of the year President Uhuru Kenyatta presided over the opening of the more than Sh5.8 billion cement factory by Devki Industries but now things are turning topsy-turvy for Salgaa, also dreaded as a black spot for its deadly traffic accidents that have claimed big names and many people.
Business leaders from Mtito Andei, Kikopey and as far as Sega town on the Kisumu- Busia Highway, a few kilometres from Busia town, expressed similar sentiments.