‘Mau Mau’ Airstrip Expanded to Boost Tourism, Farming in Kenya

Located in the plain between the Aberdare ranges and Mt Kenya is an airstrip few in Kenya know about.

Yet it played a major role in the events that shaped independent Kenya.

Nyaribo Airstrip in the outskirts of Nyeri town served as a launching base for British warplanes hunting down Mau Mau fighters in the Aberdares and Mt Kenya forests.

“The green plains” as it is known by locals was used by the British to bombard Mau Mau hideouts.

The airstrip also served as an aviation hub for the region, connecting it to other parts of the country.

“I was flown to Kapenguria after my sentencing by colonialists from this airstrip. By then there were no hangars and it was just an open field but heavily guarded,” recalls 80-year-old Kanyoi Muita, a former freedom fighter.

The airstrip which only had a few facilities was a strictly no-go area for Africans.

After Independence, the facility was rehabilitated in the early ’70s by the government. But through the ’80s and ’90s, it fell to neglect and became unusable.

After almost three decades of being deserted, the airstrip is now in the process of a major makeover that is set to rekindle its days as a major aviation hub in the region.

The Sh150 million renovation by the Kenya Airports Authority which is expected to be completed by the end of the year will see the initial 900-metre runaway expanded to 1.3km.

This will allow the airstrip to accommodate larger aircraft like the Dash-eight.

S S Mehta, a Kenyan construction firm, won the tender. Further expansion will see 200 meters added to the runway to make it 1.5km, said Peter Nyangina, the site supervisor.

“The 200m will be worked on after finishing what is supposed to be done.

This work can be done even when the airstrip is in operation and take less than a month to complete,” he said.

Once completed, the airstrip is expected to open up the region’s economy and improve trade, bolster tourism and horticulture, provide a training ground for aviation colleges and improve passenger flight.

The KAA airstrip maintenance head, Mr Raphael Mukui, said the renovation was to be completed in July before bad weather disrupted the timetable. But as works on the 77 acre piece of land nears completion, KAA is keen on controlling building around the airstrip.

Aviation regulations prohibit construction of buildings on the landing and take-off paths to prevent accidents.

Safety standards

According to Mr Nyangina, construction of tall storey buildings in Kiganjo and Nyaribo areas will not be allowed while power lines will have to be removed or passed underground.

“We won’t allow developers to construct houses too close to the airstrip or tall buildings for safety,” said Mr Nyangina.

Over the past few years, aircraft operators have warned of increasing encroachment on flight paths by developers around Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Wilson Airport and Moi Airbase in Eastleigh.

Recently, the Kenya Association of Air Operators (KAAO) warned that Wilson Airport no longer met safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation due to illegal construction.

Mr Mukui said rehabilitation of Kakamega, Lodwar, Embu, Isiolo and Lamu airstrips has also started.