Recently I travelled through the new Mati road from Mitunguu to Meru. From Mitunguu, you join the highway at Gitimbine. Unlike the Meru-Nairobi road, the Mati route is less hilly. It is also more picturesque. You catch glimpses of some major rivers that make Meru Kenya’s breadbasket. For the first time, I saw towns I only heard of in my youth. Then, centres like Chaaria, Gaitu and Chiakariga were almost impenetrable, particularly during the rainy season when they became no-go zones. Now the tarmac is changing all that.
The contractor here did an excellent job of scenic labelling. Here you can stop at every well-marked river crossing without the inconvenience of too much traffic and too many prying eyes. A lot of effort went into riverbank protection where the road passes over the rivers. But something is amiss – the rivers seem way smaller than old stories told.
Thingithu River is as old as Meru – probably older. In his book, ‘When We Began, There Were Witchmen‘, Jeffrey Fadiman describes the river as a swampland area. Fadiman says this was the second place the Meru people settled in after their release from the ‘Red People’ of Mbwaa. Thingithu supported them for three seasons before they had to move to their third (Rurii), fourth (Tubaranya), and fifth (Irikinu) area.
Now traces of high zinc blamed on upstream quarry activity and many other things threaten the very existence of this water source.
River Mariara, the next river on this road, seems also set for the same fateful course as Thingithu. The culprit, massive logging, clearing of wetlands for agriculture, and vast plantations of eucalyptus trees. The County government recently embarked on a KES 20 million bamboo planting exercise along the river’s catchment area. Hopefully, that will reverse the situation.
But all is not lost for rivers in Meru. Perhaps opening up this frontier might come as a blessing in disguise after all. As the area gets exposed, it opens it up to more scrutiny. Quick trips down these rivers show a lot of work is going on to protect them – a good sign.
Speaking of exposure, investors are already cashing in on the potential that will come with the road – like ‘shorter distances’. You know how a good road network makes longer journeys look shorter, right? I did stumble on this fascinating resort tacked up a hill called Sarovima 7’s. From my vantage point, it looked like a place worth exploring. But I was on the clock with still a journey to Meru and then Nanyuki to make the same day. So now it is on my bucket list, for when next I am headed to Mitunguu.