Miwani: The abandoned giant miller that pioneered Kenya’s sugar industry lies dead
The journey from Muhoroni to Miwani is harrowing: a shaky and rackety voyage into the interior of what was once Kenya’s most promising sugar belt.
The road is a moniker of what has gone wrong in the sugar industry, and on both sides are thousands of acres strewn with unkempt fields that once fed Kenya’s sugar industry.
Here, indolent pedestrians make surprised glimpses at any motorist daring enough to use this spring-breaking road. A few traces of tarmac can be seen—the only evidence available of an attempt to have a road network within the plantations.
Today, only tractors and motorbikes are able to navigate this lunar resembling surface where some locals still hold on — hoping that they would once break even as cane farmers.
Our crew had to stop more than once to help small cars stuck in giant pits of mud. Ironically, one was from the defunct Miwani Sugar Company, the miller that was at one point owned by jailed fraudster Ketan Somaia, and went quiet in 2001.
From a distance, the rusty metals, the old smokestack and overgrown vegetation around the collapsed miller gives the impression of an abandoned historical site.
One gate is firmly closed and the grass has grown on the 18 parking lots – once reserved for the top managers. The compound has some old jacaranda trees, and is overrun by innumerable creeping plants.
A nearby school, once a preserve of children of the middle-class working in the area, is in a shambles. A 260-bed hospital that once saved lives in the area is in dire need of salvage.
Operations manager now curator
Once known as Victoria Nyanza Sugar Mills, Miwani —Kenya’s premier sugar factory — is today more of a museum, a far cry from the company where in 1922 the Devji Hindocha family purchased the enterprise and established a commercial mill thus turning it into one of the most successful in the region.
By 1946, Miwani was producing 20,000 tonnes of sugar from its 15,000 acres. It also employed 4,200 people making it one of the biggest in the region.
Seventy years later, and for the last 15 years, the giant miller that pioneered Kenya’s sugar production long before independence lies dead. It’s the third time the mill went quiet but this time has been the longest and the most devastating.
At the abandoned mill, we found Jack Otsembo who used to be the operations manager, but whose role has been reduced to that of a curator of the abandoned structures.
Mr Otsembo has mastered the ways inside the this dead titan. In his office are small jars containing the last grains of sugar that Miwani milled, preserved like treasured mementoes, on a table near the door and which allows him to reflect on the good old days and hopes – just like the sugar farmers- that this mill will one day billow out some smoke.
CREDIT: The East African