Employees sort mangoes at the Kalamba fruits factory in Makueni County. [John Muia, Standard]
Some minutes to noon on Friday, the multi-billion shilling flagship project which drove an immortal wedge between Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana and Members of County Assembly, roared to life.
As smoke from massive boilers and coolers of Makueni Fruit Processing Plant bellowed to the skies on the foothills of Nzaui hill in Kalamba, elated residents who stuck with the governor through the squabbles with the county assembly went into a frenzy.
Before the roar, Kalamba was a quaint forgotten hinterland outpost surrounded by scenic rolling hills and where missionary Peter Scott established the first Africa Inland Mission church in 1895.
But crowning the moment is the popular legend that the first Kamba family tumbled from heaven and landed on the overlooking Nzaui hill where their foot-print remain to date, permanently implanted on the rocks.
“If he (Kibwana) gave in to the MCAs’ demands to re-allocate the money to assembly foreign travels, we wouldn’t be standing here to witness this historic occasion. The story of this plant is written with blood, tears and pain of those who stood in the right side of history,” County minister of trade Maithya Mbinda says.
At the height of the crisis, Prof Kibwana stubbornly refused to approve the county budget after the MCAs gravely tinkered with the original to their advantage. They also impeached his senior staff members.
Did not attend
Mr Mbinda was the finance minister when the MCAs were baying for Kibwana’s neck while Ruth Kyatha headed the agriculture docket which was driving the Kalamba project. The MCAs claimed Kyatha had gobbled up the initial Sh70 million allocated to kick-start the project.
“We went through a lot in those days – public ridicule, depression, stress, name it! The launch today is testimony that the forces of good will always triumph over the evil ones. We are vindicated and we are proud we sailed through,” Ms Kyatha said.
At the launch, Deputy Governor Adelina Mwau was less diplomatic and more brutal, politically. She expressly called upon Makueni residents to kick out all the MCAs who frustrated the first half of Kibwana’s reign, starting with area MCA and the cornerstone of the rebellion Francis “Musso” Mutuku.
Musso, the immediate leader of majority in the assembly and chair of budget committee did not attend the event. MCAs who attended – Musyoka Keli and Francis Mutungi had to go out of their way to remind residents that they stood with the governor lest they be swept at one fell swoop alongside their colleagues.
“Those who shot at him… may they disappear without trace, like goat’s hump,” Mutungi thundered. Douglas Mbilu, the county minister of water and environment who took the bullet for Kibwana on the fateful day was in good spirits at the launch, singing a folklore song extolling the virtues of Kibwana’s government on demand of the locals.
“Ula mundu unaivaa ndakatate usyoka (the sitting MCA of this place, Musso, should not come back) Do not allow him to come back. He led his colleagues in slashing off the project funds,” Mwau said flapping eyes fast and expressing the urgency of the moment.
Kibwana calls the project the “landmark of the sovereign power” of the people of Makueni. He dedicated it to the enduring farmers of the area who had braved many years of impoverishing brokerage cartels until the county government came in.
The governor hoped the factory would open up the region to exponential growth in many facets and said he was on unstoppable path to realize the county Vision 2025 dream.
“We refused to blink. I called for reinforcement and you came in droves. They send in snipers to take away some of us but we braved it all, stoically. We called for a truce, we talked and reconciled. We won and now we are here and you can see, nikinene, nikiseo na nikyenyu (its big, its good and its yours),” he said.
Inside the massive factory, temporary workers clad in protective gear picked up mangoes from crates, sliced them off and loaded them to the machines. As they rolled up and disappeared into the system, bewildered locals exclaimed in disbelief.
“Asya kwenzwa, asya kuthambwa, kukelwa and ngii kukunwa ikaamba ta kiwu, asi! (See how they are being peeled, washed, separated and yanked off the seeds), a resident exclaimed.
On the lower side of the plant, mango seeds dropped onto a waiting truck. Farmer’s representatives who attended the launch endorsed the project. They committed to plant more mango trees to keep the plant running. They also requested for more extension services to improve on quality of their yields.
The factory targets to suck in the 20,000 metric tonnes of mangoes Makueni produces a year.
According to Dr George Kimeu, the chair of the task force which oversaw the project, the plant can process 5 tons of mangoes for an hour, 40 tons in a day.
In its initial stages, the factory is producing mango puree for sale. In its optimum stage however, the plant will churn out fully packaged and Makueni-branded juices for local and international market.
It also has the capacity to produce pulps from avocados and oranges.