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West Pokot residents want abandoned airstrip put to use

County Commissioner Apollo Okello says they have requested for funds but to date they have not received any

Part of the barbed wire fence erected by the Kapenguria Municipal Council in 2003 has already fallen.

Amidst the verdant green of the local airstrip, built by the colonial government in the 1950s, signs of neglect are aplenty.

Right from the tens of cattle and donkeys grazing peacefully in the overgrown bushes, people and motorcycles trespassing on the land, or weeds over-running its 20 acres, the list seems to be endless.

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Situated about 10km from West Pokot county government offices headquarters, it was once billed as the gateway to northern Kenya.

Overgrown bushes

The first thing that strikes a visitor to the area are animals grazing peacefully in the overgrown bushes that hide all evidence that this was once an airstrip designed to improve the lives of residents, in one of the poorest regions in the country.

Residents donated their land for the construction of the facility.

Part of the barbed wire fence that was erected by the Kapenguria Municipal Council, in 2003, has already fallen, as the airstrip, located in Kashaunet village, has been turned into a grazing field.

“We would have wished to see airplanes landing on the airstrip but it has long been forgotten,” said Mrs Hellen Peiywa.

Narrow paths

Instead of hosting planes, the runaway, dusty and crisscrossed by narrow paths, now acts as a shortcut to people’s homes. Motorcycle operators prefer it to the main roads that are in poor state.

“The barbed wire has been cut down, we had even booked space for the construction of shops and hotels. If the Government considers rebuilding the airstrip, it will boost the county’s economy. Our lives will totally change,” said Damaris Sirma, 52.

She said she has never seen a plane land at the facility.

“The community has never benefited from the airstrip since its establishment. Even some of the elders who donated their land for the airstrip have never been compensated. Politicians have turned the facility into a campaign tool,” said Philip Kemei, 53.

Rehabilitation of the airstrip is expected to ease transportation of horticultural products.

They pleaded with the national government to consider constructing a modern airstrip that will be fully operational.

“We could be farming fruits and vegetables because we receive heavy rainfall throughout the year. The airstrip should be operational like other airstrips in the country,” added Mr Kemei.

West Pokot County Commissioner Apollo Okello said they had requested for funds for rehabilitation but to date they had not received any.

Governor John Lonyangapuo has said rehabilitation of the airstrip is in his manifesto and he will hold talks with Kenya Airports Authority to consider buying more land for expansion.

“We have the land set aside but it is not enough,” said the governor.

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