Thika has served as Kenyaâ€™s industrial town,Â for a long time, being home to several top-notch industries. It is a strategic town within Kiambu County that also serves as an agricultural hub and more recently, an education hub, with several institutions of higher learning pitching tent here.
Recently, Thikaâ€™s profile was raisedÂ with the construction of the now completed Thika super highway.
One would expect that the industrial cog in this wheel that is Thika would be boosted by the super highway, but what we are seeing is far from the expected. Thika is today a real estate hub, and if what is happening today is anything to go by, Thika will be home to several golf cities.
Charles Peter Mwangi, a real estate consultant and CEO of Rubyland Limited, attributes this shift to the nature of Kenyaâ€™s economy.
â€œOur economy is not growing at such a rate as to support the industrial growth in areas like Thika because very few people would invest in the industrial sector, hence the growth of real estate,â€ says Charles.
This shift in fundamentals, he explains, is also attributed to Kenyaâ€™s industry that is consumption driven rather than industrial driven, and this is why Thika looks plum to Kenyans who would spare a million or two to secure a prime plot here.
Felix Odhiambo Oduor is one such Kenyan, who invested heavily in the region for more reasons than one.
â€œWhen I think of real estate, I thinkÂ of Thika because it is convenient with the advent of the super highway. The climate is great; there are several social amenities such as malls, schools and institutions. I chose Thika because it is a great bargain,â€ says Felix.
The last three years have seen Oduor invest massively in Thika: A two-acre farm land, half an acre in Ruiru and a quarter of an acre in Buffalo Hills Leisure and Golf Village, still in Thika.
Charles Kabiru, the CEO of Thika Greens, an upcoming golf city, says the prime location of Thika has enabled developers to provide integrated developments with more amenities such as a championship golf course, shopping complexes and leisure facilities, in a model that offers relatively lower cost of living as compared to Nairobi.
He says: â€œThere is also a growing demand for housing especially by the middle class, who are looking for houses out of the city to serene quiet neighbourhoods. Improved infrastructure has thus seen Thika as one of their first optionsÃŸ.â€
The response towards this relatively new idea of golf cities has been outstanding, says Charles. This is because it is possible to commute between the city and a home in a tranquil upcountry setting inÂ a place like this. This is in view of the fact that the journey from Thika to the Nairobi Central Business District has been halved by the completed highway.
â€œOur phase one comprising of 1,064 plots was sold out within a year and we have had a robust sale of phase two. Phase three is currently 70 per cent sold out,â€ says Kabiru.
A crosscheck on several websites of upcoming golf cities in Thika sparks interest in anyone looking for a future home close to the city, but away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi.
The vast, lush green nine-hole golf courses nestled upon hundreds of acres spells affluence and comfort. The promise of such a comfortable and high-end life is enticing, but critics are not about to wholly buy this idea. Could there be a flipside to the Thika dream?
Charles thinks that there could be a darker side to the sudden real estate boom in Thika. He opines that it could do more harm than good because Thika is slowly being robbed off fertile agricultural land at the expense of real estate.
â€œSubsistence farming will be heavily affected and secondly, there are a lot of people who are going to be displaced with the growth of golf cities around Thika,â€ he says.
He adds that the golf cities and other real estate developments in the area may have unsettled several people and Thika could be headed for a social crisis.
â€œWe are headed for a social crisis of sorts because the many people who were unsettled will need an option for their livelihoods and some may resort to crime and other evils as they cannot afford to live in the golf cities,â€ he says.
With the advent of the Thika super highway, Charles opines that the best option would have been to first revive and boost the industries, then employ locals and empower them to buy the rather costly golf cities.
Kamuthi Housing Cooperative Society has also heavily invested in Thika in the form of Buffalo Hills Club House Development, a gated community and golf city sitting on 355 acres of land.
According to the cooperativeâ€™s chairman, Bernard Kungu Maina, the society has controlled the development in such a way that it caters for the low cost housing and light industries as well.
â€œWe are aware that in this golf city, there will be workers who will need a place to live. Instead of allowing the habitual slums that are now part of every high-end estates, we have a space for low-cost but decent housing,â€ says Bernard.
So far, Kamuthi Housing Cooperative Society has settled 4,000 of its members on an eighth-acre plot each. Bufffalo Hills has also set aside about 30 to 50 acres of land for agricultural purposes.
Charles and Bernard agree that the buck stops with the government in ensuring this real estate boom in Thika does not spiral out of control.
â€œGovernment involvement is key in arresting this issue. The government needs to ensure that we do not have development that is not able to sustain the eco-system,â€ says Charles.
Besides putting in place density control measures, the government needs to rethink the criteria for approving developments such as golf cities.
â€œTake for instance South Africa in the development of Durban City. The government had to ensure that there were satellite towns around the city with low cost but decent housing to settle those that were displaced,â€ says Charles.
Bernard advocates for a stronger land policy with stringent measures taken on those that own larger pieces of land.
He says: â€œ The government should introduce a certain tax on large land owners who let land sit idle. This way, all Kenyans can benefit from that