By Obegi Malack
Ongata Rongai, Kiserian and Ngong towns are major towns in Kajiado North constituency Kajiado County with now a population of more than 300,000 people, according to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census.
The growth of Ongata Rongai town can be traced to 1920s when the first families settled in the area. The families identified as the first to settle in Rongai are the Peres, Nakeel, Gicharisha, Gitau, Moijoi, ole Megenyo, Pasha, Moiyae and his brothers.
Joshua Nakeel, 77, a grandson of the late Nakeel still has a picture of what transpired in those years. He says the town was occupied by the a few families who later invited their friends from as far as Central Kenya to graze in their lands.
“The late Nakeel had a friend from Central, who was looking for pasture. He welcomed his friend who also invited friends and relatives,” he said.
Former Rongai Councillor Ruth Wakapa, 70, who was married to the Peres family when she was 16 years, said the other first families married among themselves since people were few.
Wakapa who was first elected woman councillor in 2002 says her forefather Pere was from Mouth Kenya Ndorobo who moved to Rongai looking for their people the Maasais. He settled in Ongata Rongai and married three wives and ensured that the first born children were educated.
Ngong was in the colonial era an administrative centre where a British District Officer (DO) was stationed and was also in charge of Southern District ( Kajiado and Machakos).
“During the British colonial rule in Kenya the area around the Ngong Hills was a major settler farming region, and many traditional colonial houses are still seen in the area and Ngong serve as the headquarters,” Joshua said.
The British were against freedom fighters being fed by the local residents and thus they ordered the first families to live in villages. The villages’ populations increased and are now towns such as Rongai and Kiserian.
Kikuyus were put in one village and the Maasais in another village their animals were guarded from freedom fighters by the Home Guards. The colonial police force used to guard the villages.
The kikuyu village was between Maasai Mall and Rongai Kenya Commercial Bank while the Maasai one was between Tumaini and Maasai Lodge stage; other Maasis were put in a village along Gataka road.
Kiserian was also a village created by the British and the Maasai community that lived around Oloosios were moved to Kiserian and Enoomatasian centre to allow easy administration . Other villages created included Oloolua.
“I remember one time a police officer shot two people dead, a home guard brother of my grandfather was a victim. He died in King George Hospital which is now Kenyatta Hospital. It is said that the officer pulled a trigger accidentally although the officers guns were always cocked,” Joshua recalls. The Home Guards used to stay in Rongai chief’s area where the community had put up the first stone house.
The late senior Nakeel was a member in Local Native Council, The colonial government established the councils in Kenya in 1924.To serve as a link between African people and the Central government, so as to involve Africans in the management of their affairs and to provide a forum through which Africans would express themselves.
Rongai was under paramount chief the late Iddi Hassan who lived in Bulbul before the late Nkoitiko took over Rongai with Tonito taking over Ngong.
The Olkejuado County Council was established in 1960s. The current Kajiado North had two wards Ngong North and South and the first councillor for Ngong South was late Kimani Kinuthia;(1974) Kaurrai was second councilor. Others were late David Gichuru who passed on in August 2021, Samuel Maina and Ruth Wakapa.
The first Member of Parliament for Kajiado North constituency was late John Keen who served from 1969 before Philip Odupoy took over from 1983 until 1988 when George Saitoti was elected. Previously he had been nominated in 1983. Moses Sakuda was elected in 2002-3 when Saitoti passed before the constituency was divided into West and East with Joseph Manje getting elected in North
Growth of Kware and Gataka
Kware centre which is now among highly populated centres in Nkaimurunya Ward started as a mining centre in 1960s. Indian people were the first people to start a quarry to supply stones. They brought their workers from Njiru who were mainly Luos and Kambas. The workers brought their families and put up camps in the area which attracted other small businessmen.
Joshua said the population of Kware grew too fast and quarry workers moved to Nkaimurunya (Gataka) when the mining work reduced. The quarrying work also led to growth of Gataka centre which is now mostly occupied by families of people who used to mine in quarries; the area also houses students from Co-operative University of Kenya.
Nakeel says the Gecharicha family put up the first shop in Ongata Rongai, He owned a lorry and used to bring items to sell from Ngong which was an administrative centre .
The first school to be built in Kajiado North was Kerarapon Primary School which was built in 1940, followed by Oloolua Primary and Ongata Ronkai Primary which opened its doors to students in 1948.
The community gave out land to put up a church which was also used as a school (Ongata Ronkai Primary). The church, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, was started by missionaries from Scotland, most notable of whom was Dr John Arthur.
The school had one teacher who was also a head teacher called Mr Melton father to Kajiado South MP the later Geoffrey Parpai.
“A white person who lived in Karen who was director of a game reserve was against putting up of Ronkai primary,” Joshua recalls.
He said the students were to interfere with wildlife but after several meetings the school was opened in October, 1948.
“The school had four classes, 1 to 4. The students later joined Oloolua intermediate from class eight and others joined Narok High School which was put up in 1962. It was the only secondary school in Maasai land and it enrolled students from Maa Nation,” he said.
Olkejuado secondary was built later in 1965 to serve children from Kajiado County. It started as a primary school.
“The British colonizers did not want African children to study beyond primary education. Many people studied to class eight and joined training institutions,” Joshua reminisces.
Wakapa was among the first female teachers in Ronkai Primary when the school had 40 students. She says she got employed as untrained teacher in 1966 by the government and later trained in 1969 in Iregi College Kakamega. She later moved to Lotoktok Primary.
In 1978 she resigned and received some money which she invested and started the first private school in Rongai, St Marks’ Academy. Other private schools such as Olerai, Thorn Tree Academy were opened years later.
Transport and trade
When the families settled in the Rongai, the area was considered as a wildlife area and the government did not consider putting up good roads. The Matatu stage for Rongai to Nairobi was in Multimedia University (Posta).
The first person to start public service transport was Thuo Wakioi and his bus operated from Kiserian to Nairobi. It used to do one trip per day. Others who operated PSV are Gichuki who bought a Nissan matatu. The government tarmacked the Magadi road between 1960 to 70 opening up the region for more investors.
“We used to take a vehicle in Ngong to Loitoktok where I was teaching, It used to take three days because the road was not tarmacked, we used Isinya route,” Wakapa says.
The Gicharisha family put up the first shop in Ongata Rongai in 1953. The family owned a lorry and used to bring items to sell from Ngong which was an administrative centre. Others who owned first shops are Karatha, Gitau, Melonye, Nakeel,Wainaina, Simon Pasha (Senior Chief Ngong) and Pere.
The first bank in the town was Ongata Rongai Kenya Commercial Bank; the community had given out land to put up a bank since business people used to transport money to Nairobi. Joshua, Roimen and Wakapa consulted Kayaya (Bank clerk) to negotiate with the bank management to set up the Rongai branch.
“I was the first person to open a bank account with KCB and used to deposit money from my Petrol business Total, which was the first petrol station in the town,” Wakapa recalls.
The town has now more than ten banks with a number of supermarkets and with tarmacking of several roads including the Gataka , Cleanshelf Gataka,Rimpa to Maasai Lodge roads the population is expected to double in a few years.