There are many upcoming urban centres in Meru County each with its own history and growth dimensions over a period of time.
One of them is Ruiri market, slowly transforming into a town that is attracting a myriad of both local and national investors.
Located about 15kms from Meru Town in Ruiri sub-location, Buuri East Sub County, Ruiri Market is strategically located owing to its centrality between Meru town and Isiolo town, about 20kms away.
Consequently, it has become one of the satellite towns in region, where some residents working in Meru town have opted to go for accommodation, owing to various factors among them a conducive weather that is neither extremely hot like in Isiolo nor overly cold as in Meru town.
Besides, Ruiri town residents have been known to be cosmopolitan and hospitable, accommodating everyone to do business in the area, while its strategic position has seen it develop to be among the leading cereal business hubs in Meru County.
Another factor that has seen the development the area is the tarmacking of the Meru-Isiolo road via the market. The infrastructural development has attracted investors and also made it easy to transport farm produce to the various markets for processing and trade.
However, residents lament over the degradation of the road to Isiolo saying it requires urgent re-carpeting owing to the many potholes that have forced travellers going to Isiolo from Meru Town to opt for the longest route via Subuiga joining the Nanyuki-Isiolo highway. They say this has denied them business activities arising from the transport sector since passing through Ruiri is the shortest way to Isiolo.
With a plot going for approximately Sh2 million, the cost of living around Ruiri market is relatively lower compared to Meru town, thus attracting more investors besides those seeking cheaper residential services.
“Here, a single room goes for as low as Sh 2, 000, Sh 4,500 for one bedroom and from Sh5, 500 to 6,000 for a two bedroomed house,” states George Kirimania, the senior assistant chief Kamutune sub-location.
This has forced some people to seek accommodation in the upcoming urban centre, which costs Sh100 in one fare way to and from Meru Town and also Isiolo Town, thus one requires Sh200 to access either of the two towns from Ruiri daily.
The area, with an approximated population of 14,000 people, has several primary and secondary schools but only one tertiary institution, Koome Vocational Training Institute. Several storey housed have started coming up with the market having potential for expansion because of the surrounding large farms that could accommodate housing projects.
The market enjoys an agricultural productive sphere with various crops majorly cereals although the production has been affected by unreliable rainfall owing to climate change, presumably caused by wanton destruction of some adjacent parts of Lower Imenti Forest that borders the market.
“Between 1974 to1977, I was a student at Miathene Boys High School and I remember that the source of the schools fuel was from Lower Imenti forest. Since then, there has been gradual deforestation and by early 2000, a section of the forest was completely brought down. This really affected the farming cycle around Ruiri area,” recounts Sebastian Mwenda, a retired police officer and a counseling psychologist.
Mwenda states that farmers in the area experience a good harvest for a period of like two years running which is followed by another four years of drought that causes food shortage around the locality.
He maintains that water shortage dates back to the early 1900s where a village well commonly referred to the residents as “Kithima kia M’araigua” was the only source of water for the entire Ruiri community up to when the area was occupied by the Italians who channeled water from the biggest river in Meru, River Kathita.
Meanwhile, residents now expect the government to initiate robust water projects in the town and its environs owing to the increasing human population.
The naming of the area vis-a-vis the market is shrouded in varying explanations. According to a 70-year-old Cecilia Mwenda who was born and raised in the area, the name Ruiri is believed to have originated from a Maasai word “loite” but pronounced as “loire” by those who settled in the place thereafter, meaning a place full of Maasais, Samburus, Rendiles or Ilchamus.
In other words, the name emanated from a group of Maa speakers but due to the inability of the Ameru to pronounce letter /l/ they instead changed it to Ruiri.
Yet another version says Ruiri was a grazing land that was mainly occupied by a tree species locally called “miruiri” by the Ameru community, thus the origin of the name Ruiri.
Apparently the oldest local primary school around is called Loire, perhaps a pointer to the history surrounding the naming of the place. “CCM Loire primary school was started by Italian missionaries but the place was already known as Ruiri, but during its registration, the Italians were unable to pronounce Ruiri and instead called it Loire associating it to a valley in Italy called Loire,” explains the retired police officer.
Indeed, an online search of the name based on his explanation reveals the presence of the place in Italy called Loire.
By Richard Muhambe