Kenya: Deplorable 'Thatcher Road' Betrays High-Profile Visit By Former British PM

16 October 2020

When former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Kenya in January 1988, she extended the visit to Vihiga County to launch a chicken project in Chekombero Village.

Mrs Thatcher used the Shem-Kivuye-Chekombero-Mululu road, which locals have since renamed Thatcher Road.

Thatcher Road is the only living testimony of the former British Premier's tour that awoke the sleepy villages of Kivuye, Chekombero and Mululu 32 years ago.

It is the locals who named the road after Thatcher, now deceased, in memory of her historic visit.

The former British Prime Minister was accompanied by the then powerful Minister Moses Mudavadi, the father of the current Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi.

According to a government administrator at the time, the senior Mudavadi represented then President Daniel arap Moi.

The road is currently in a deplorable condition, evidently abandoned, despite the memories it has preserved for 32 years now.

But even today, the mention of 'Thatcher Road' still evokes fond memories among locals.

Chicken project

Even those who were not born at the time narrate the events of the tour as though they witnessed it.

Japheth Muzembi, 72, was at the time an assistant chief. He was at the heart of the planning of the visit to the remote area that has remained under-developed for years.

Now a retired chief, Mzee Muzembi vividly recalls that sunny morning of January when the villages of Chekombero, Mululu and Kivuye - all in Sabatia Sub-County - hosted the British Prime Minister.

Mr Muzembi says Mrs Thatcher's convoy snaked its way through the Shem-Kivuye-Chekombero-Mululu road as she made her way to the venue of the chicken project.

Before Thatcher arrived, frantic effort was made to improve the condition of the road to make it passable.

Mr Muzembi recalls how molasses from Mumias Sugar Company was ferried to the area and smeared on the road to make it look like it was tarmacked.

"I received information from the Office of the President informing me about the visit. Mudavadi wondered how the road could be improved as word of the tour spread in the area," Mr Muzembi recalls.

Mzee Muzembi, who was 40 years at the time, says this is then decided that molasses would play the role of tarmac. There was limited time to undertake major road works ahead of the visit.

After the dark substance was smeared on the road, Mr Muzembi says the dust was gone and the stretch looked like a tarmacked road.

However, the retired chief does not recall what the British Prime Minister said on that day. All he remembers is the huge crowd that Thatcher's visit attracted.

"I don't recall whether she promised any goodies, but she was happy to visit Sabatia. Her convoy was moving at a slow pace as people followed on foot up to Chekombero, the location of the chicken project," he says.

Powerful nation

Mr Laban Olieki, a youth at the time, was part of the security team that controlled the huge crowd.

He says Mudavadi's status among the locals took a bigger profile for bringing the head of a powerful nation to their village.

"She (Thatcher) did not have a heavy security detail. Only a few white police officers were with her alongside Kenya police officers and those of us who were serving as Kanu Youth," he recalls.

Three decades later, Thatcher Road has degenerated into a dusty, potholed path and the chicken project that brought over Thatcher has since collapsed.

Ms Nancy Salano, the Kenya Rural Roads Authority (Kerra) chairperson representing Sabatia Sub-County, says the authority carries out annual maintenance on the road.

She says the maintenance only involves grading and gravelling due to budgetary constraints.

Ms Salano says there is a need for more funding to enable Kerra improve the road and construct more culverts.

Mrs Thatcher died in London on April 8, 2013 at the age of 87.

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