Why Wajir airport is key to unlocking Wajir, north eastern economies

Wajir Airport: A 2015 report by World Bank that ranked Wajir as the top most county in development expenditure across the country may serve as pointer to the huge steps-albeit bit by bit—the county has taken in bringing development to its people.

In the report, the county had managed to use all its allocated development funds from the national treasury, something that was accomplished by only 13 counties in the whole county. The county government had received sh 3.4 billion as development expenditure and these monies were utilized in various development projects that have greatly transformed the semi-arid county.

They development mojo did not start in 2015 however as past evidence indicates. Official records from the Kenya National Archives show that Wajir town was established in 1900s and was to serve as the tail end post of the British electorate for the colonial government.

Military personnel were stationed at the outpost station together with census clerks and other civil workers and this brought about social amenities to be used by this colonial employees. And thus Wajir town was born. Mandera did not  exist by then but rather it was just a wilderness of dust, sand and shrubs.

SEE MORE: Kenya’s economy grew by 6.3 per cent in 2018

First forward to 1977, the government of Kenya decided to rehabilitate an old facility used by the colonial army men and built it into an airport to be used by the Kenyan defence forces. This was at the height of shifta wars and president Moi wanted to have his army next to enemy in case President Barre decided to be cunny. He contracted an Israel company HZ to do the job

But it was a blessing in disguise for Wajir County. This is because the construction of the airport set the ball rolling for the steady development of the red county that is home to Lake Yahud, the most beautiful morning scenery in the whole of north-eastern according to the Nation Museum of Kenya.

 When HZ finished constructing the airport the Kenya air force were drafted into the airport. But they couldn’t survive on guns and gunny bags alone prompting the government to hire another contractor who built three bars and a hotel within the town of Wajir. These were to serve the military personnel but locals and civilian guests were allowed to frequent the facilities.

The airport was used by military personnel alone until 2007 when it was officially commissioned to take both civilian passengers and the army. Flights to Somalia from Nairobi were briefly suspended due security concerns, but when the suspension was lifted in 2007, Wajir County had plenty to celebrate.

One of the conditions the Kenya airports authority(KAA) on lifting of the suspension was that all flights should thereafter stop at the Wajir Airport for customs, immigration and security screening before continuing onto their final destination. The Kenyan government subsequently outsourced the construction of a new terminal in the airport and assigned KAA, customs, immigration and security officials to operate in the facility.

On September 7 in 2007, the airport was officially commissioned to hold charted and passengers’ flights as well as the previously accommodated military airplanes thereby heralding a new development era for the previously sleepy town of Garrisa.

This is because this rule ensured that Garrisa town received streams of people on a daily basis bring in in much needed revenue and income. At this time, the town had only the three bars that served the military and one storeyed building but this would quickly change as investors flocked in so as to cash on the travellers, visitors and new government officials living in the town.

New buildings were built, hotels were opened and the first all wares store/supermarket opened its doors to the populace. Wajir County would therefore start its first baby steps of development with the commercialization of the airport and the advent of county governments found an already started job.

By 2012, when the US Navy sea bees built a new tarmac to hold heavy tanks, the airport was already receiving 7 commercial airplanes a day, when an estimated traffic of 1000 people. This brought an revenue of sh11 million for flight fees alone with more income inform of passenger’s expenditure within the town.

When Governor Mohammed Abdi was elected in 2013, he promised to take development to the interiors of the county and one of his most successful development projects has been the irrigation initiative which was lauded by World Bank as a transformative initiative.

His efforts to have his predominantly pastoralists constituents take up on farming has had many ups and downs but it is now bearing fruits. Wajir County despite being semi-arid has not had a hunger crisis since the advent of counties and the World Bank supported the initiative by providing a grant for piped water.

This month the county of Wajir also received Sh 5 billion from World Bank for water and sanitation programs under the north eastern development initiative (NEDI).

The deal is part of the Sh120 billion World Bank-funded Northern Eastern Development Initiative set to benefit 10 counties in northern Kenya.

Witnessing the signing in May this year, Deputy President William Ruto said access to water and sanitation still posed a major challenge in the two counties.

He added that the signing of the agreements would also enhance the strengthening of water companies in the counties.

“We will build their capacities and ensure that they can provide these services to the people in the two counties,” said Dr Ruto.

Water Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelgui said the Sh10 billion was a “special grant” to the counties(Wajir and Garissa-to share equally).

In the sports development front, Governor Abdi was on the fore front in the establishment of a football club in the region, which will nurture for the sports talent among the locals while also entertaining the fans.

He recently offered monetary support the football club, Northern wanderers FC.

The Wajir international airport is seen as a vital asset when it comes to facilitating transport of the players to play matches in other regions of Kenya. Visiting teams will also find the airport a welcoming convenience

Local low-cost carrier Silverstone Air Services is set to start daily flights between Nairobi and Wajir in June, raising the number of options for customers plying the North Eastern route.

The airline, which has been operating in Kenya since 2017, said the new flights will originate from Wilson Airport, Nairobi and will cost about Sh11,000 for a return ticket.

The route will be served by a Dash 8-300 aircraft that carries 50 passengers.

“We are planning to introduce direct flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to Wajir on June 24,” said Silverstone Air sales manager Patrick Oketch in an interview

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