Nyeri is a town situated in the Central Highlands of Kenya. It is the county headquarters of Nyeri County. The town was the central administrative headquarters of the country’s former Central Province. Following the dissolution of the former provinces by Kenya’s new constitution on 26 August 2010, the city is situated about 150 km north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, in the country’s densely populated and fertile Central Highlands, lying between the eastern base of the Aberdare (Nyandarua) Range, which forms part of the eastern end of the Great Rift Valley, and the western slopes of Mount Kenya.
The city population, according to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, was estimated at 140,338. However, the number is rapidly growing. There is, however, a significant population of primarily Government and corporate workers who ordinarily reside in Nyeri but who, during the census, choose to be counted in their areas of origin or the areas where their families are residents. The town has a relatively low cost of living in comparison to Nairobi and other major urban centres in Kenya. Located in Kenya’s fertile highlands, food and water are plentiful and relatively cheap.
Nyeri hosts the tomb of Robert Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout movement. It is also the home town of the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai. The town is also the home of the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology (DeKUT), founded by the local community in the early 1970s as an institute of technology, and converted into a fully fledged university in 2012.
Towards the end of 1902, as the British were establishing their colonial presence, Richard Meinertzhagen marched a strong military column meeting spirited resistance from the native Kikuyu warriors led by Wangombe Wa Ihura. The Kikuyu were eventually defeated. After Meinertzhagen’s victory, a decision was reached to site a British post close to a little hill on the slopes of Mt. Kenya. The Kikuyu called the hill Kia-Nyiri while their Maasai neighbours called the hill Na-aier. The post took its name from the little hill. On 18 December 1902, Nyeri was founded.
Shortly after the establishment of the post, a trickle of European settlers and missionaries and Indian merchants began to migrate into Nyeri and the surrounding areas. The city soon burgeoned into a trading centre for white settler farmers who produced cattle, wheat and coffee. The city became particularly associated with the Happy Valley set in the first half of the twentieth century. The Nyeri Golf Club, The White Rhino Hotel, Outspan Hotel, and the Aberdare Country Club at nearby Mweiga township are relics of those colonial days.
Demographics and culture
Ethnicity and language
The majority of Nyeri residents are members of Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, with residents generally being known as “Nyeri Kikuyu”. The Kikuyu language is widely spoken, along with Kenya’s National language, Swahili as well as Kenya’s official language, English.
Following the national pattern of Kenya being a predominantly Christian country, Christianity is the main religion. The main Christian denominations are Catholic-that hosts the Cathedral and the Archbishop’s official residence-, Presbyterian, Anglican, Pentecostals and indigenous denominations, in that order. The older residents, who tend to attend the mainstream churches, are invariably more religious than the younger ones. Muslims, traditional African believers and Hindus, in declining order, make up a small minority.
About 5 km from the city Centre is the Mathari Mission settlement, a complex of several Catholic buildings and institutions, established by Italian missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century. The mission is composed of convents for nuns, schools, a teacher training college and other vocational colleges. It also hosts the Consolata Hospital and School of Nursing, which is staffed largely by nuns of the Consolata order. Nyeri is also the place where Blessed Stephanie Nyaatha was laid to rest.
In addition to its two home-grown universities, Dedan Kimathi University of Technology and the recently upgraded Karatina University College, Nyeri hosts satellite campuses of various Kenyan public universities such as University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University.
The National Police Training College is situated in Kiganjo, 10.8 km from the city. There is a Medical Training College, a government nursing school, two polytechnic colleges, and several private and public secondary and primary schools such as Moi Nyeri Complex, Temple Road, DEB Muslim and Ngangarithi primary. The town is also home to the Nyeri National Polytechnic. Other technical training colleges in the town include Tetu TVC, Mathira TVC and Kieni Esat TVC as well as many vocational and technical training centers spread across the county. The Roman Catholic Church Archdiocese of Nyeri runs several schools, colleges, and hospitals. The town is also home to three national schools, Kagumo High School, Nyeri High School and the Bishop Gatimu Girls High School in Nyeri. It is the home to prestigious extra county schools in the nation like Othaya Boys High School and Mahiga Girls Secondary School. St. Mary’s Boys Secondary School Nyeri is another top-performing high school located in Nyeri town.
The largest formal employer in Nyeri, being until recently the administrative headquarters of the former Central Province, is the Government of Kenya. The local Municipal Council and utility providers are also significant employers. The various sectors of the service industry, including retail, hospitality, banking, insurance, the charity industry, religious bodies especially the Catholic Church and professionals are also significant employers.
The main industrial plants are a Coca-Cola bottling plant, a water and fruit juice bottling plant, a number of tea and coffee processing factories, a milk processing and packaging factory owned and run by the Kenya Co-operative Creameries Ltd, and a number of maize millers. There is also a wide range of largely unsophisticated light industries, including motor vehicle repair garages, electronics repair shops, furniture workshops, tailoring shops, and bakeries. Attractive investment opportunities exist within the Nyeri industrial area of Kiganjo which is served by the newly refurbished railway line and has ample land for industrial expansion.
A major industry in Nyeri is farming, which is mostly unmechanized. The city urban area is actually part of the surrounding rural areas of greater Nyeri County, with farms within the municipality blending seamlessly into the rural area. The main cash crops are Coffee and tea, grown mainly by smallholders who are organized into quasi-private state-supported and supervised co-operatives or companies for farm input distribution, basic processing and marketing purposes.
The main food crops are maize, the staple food in most of Kenya, legumes (especially beans and peas), tubers (mainly potatoes), and vegetables (especially tomatoes, cabbage, spinach and kale). Livestock, mainly dairy cattle, goats, sheep, and chicken are also widely kept. Food crop and livestock farming are also done by smallholders, with marketing and distribution of surplus produce (after farmers’ own consumption) being done privately.
Tourism is also significant, as there are many tourist destinations nearby, including the Aberdare and Mount Kenya National Parks, and a number of hotels offering conference tourism and short upcountry holidays. The Nyeri Museum is located within Nyeri town, it houses cultural artifacts and Kenya’s colonial history.
Nyeri has tarmacked roads, and the county and national governments are upgrading many of them. Houses have drinking water on tap, but sewage provision is through soak pits, pit latrines and septic tanks are still widespread. The city’s topography allows nature and gravity to take care of most of the city’s storm water drainage.
Phone services, especially mobile telephony, and internet services are widely available. A fibre optic cable network linking the city to offshore submarine cables recently reached Kenya’s coast.
Nyeri is served by a reasonably well-maintained tarmac road network connecting it to Nairobi, Nakuru, Nanyuki, Othaya and other surrounding towns. The newly built Kenol-Marua 4 lane super highway ends few kilometers from Nyeri town, Most transportation of cargo to and from Nyeri is by road, although the city has a largely underutilized railway station at Kiganjo (about six kilometers out of city towards Nanyuki) on the branchline of the railway from Nairobi to Nanyuki.
An airport and some airstrips serve the city: one at Mweiga (about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) out of city towards Nakuru) and another at Nyaribo, off the Nanyuki – Naromoru highway. The main mode of public passenger transport to, from, and within Nyeri is by way of fourteen-seater minibuses (matatu), though un-metered salon car taxis are also widely used.
Nyeri has many visitors to the Baden-Powell grave, the resting place of Lieutenant-General Lord Baden-Powell, a British commander in the Boer War and the founder of the Scouting Movement, who once wrote “the nearer to Nyeri the nearer to bliss”. He and his wife, Olave, Lady Baden-Powell, G.B.E., are buried in the City cemetery. Baden-Powell had a cottage built, which he called “Paxtu”. He lived there until his death, and it is now a small museum; it stands in the grounds of the Outspan Hotel. Nyeri remains a place of pilgrimage for the worldwide Scouting and Guiding Movements, with members congregating in the city from time to time for various activities and functions.
There are also visitors to the Italian War Memorial Chapel at Mathari, built in 1952 by the Italian government in honour of Italian Royal Army soldiers, prisoners of war, and other internees, from the time of the Second World War who died in East Africa, including 69 African recruits to the Italian forces, mostly Somalis. Among those buried at Mathari is Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, Viceroy of Italian East Africa, whose tomb is within the Chapel, in front of the altar.
The chapel is not used for regular worship, but a special Mass is celebrated every 2 November in memory of the fallen soldiers and those who died in captivity. Covering the walls of the main church building are memorials for the many Italian servicemen who died during the war. Each memorial is in the form of a small oblong plaque indicating the name of the soldier, the battalion he served in, and the place where he died.
Mount Kenya and Nyeri hill are nearby, as well as the Tetu hills 50 km to the North East. About 20 km from the city is Mount Kenya National Park. Mount Kenya is an extinct volcano lying astride the Equator. The mountain has two main snow-covered peaks – Batian (5 200 m) and Nelion (5 188 m). It is the highest mountain in the country and the second, after Kilimanjaro, in Africa.
The mountain slopes are covered in forest, bamboo, scrub and moorland giving way on high central peaks to rock, ice and snow. Its U-shaped glacial valleys, rugged snow-capped peaks, Afro-alpine desert, thirty lakes and eight different natural forest types and a variety of wildlife species make it a convergence of natural attractions. The wildlife found in the park include giant forest hog, tree hyrax, white-tailed mongoose, black leopard, mountain bongo, elephant, black rhino, suni, black-fronted duiker, mole-rat and over 130 species of birds. Activities taking place in the park include game drives, nature walks, mountain climbing, wildlife viewing, camping and cave exploration.
About fifteen kilometers out of Nyeri on the opposite side to Mt. Kenya is the Aberdare National Park. The Aberdares is an old volcanic mountain range with lower peaks due to a longer period of erosion. It offers views of Mount Kenya to the east and the Great Rift Valley to the west. Its unusual vegetation, rugged terrain, deep ravines cutting through its forested eastern and western slopes, clear water streams and waterfalls combine to create an area of great scenic beauty. Its major attractions include the Lesatima and Kinangop peaks and many waterfalls, including the magnificent Karuru falls which drop 272 meters, Zaina falls which drop about 140 meters and the Gura Falls which drop 305 meters.
The park is home to many endangered species including the rare bongo, giant forest hog, packs of the now very rare wild dogs, and endemic mole-rat and mole shrew. Other game include a large population of black rhino, leopard servile, endemic bird species, reptiles and insects. Activities include game drives and nature walks. Both brown and rainbow trout abound in the cool mountain streams. Within the park, lodges near watering holes offer close proximity night game viewing. It was at Treetops Lodge that The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh (now Elizabeth II) was advised of the death of her father while on a honeymoon retreat, and her own ascent to the throne. The park is also known for the Kimathi hideouts, the Mau-Mau Caves, and the Kimathi “post office” where agents used to drop messages for Mau Mau fighters during the guerrilla wars for Kenyan independence.
Close to the city are several privately owned ranches, many of which also serve as private wildlife sanctuaries like Solio Ranch, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Many higher-end tourists stay at these ranches, including celebrities such as Bill Gates.
Administration and government
Nyeri is now, as an administrative centre, currently in transition as the new governance and administrative structures created by the new Kenyan Constitution are in the early stages of implementation.
Nyeri, as aforesaid, had been the Provincial Headquarters of the now defunct Central Province. The fate of the Provincial Administration is now the subject of intense national debate as the country transits to the new Constitution’s new governance structure. In the interim, the Central Provincial Commissioner (PC) remains in Nyeri. Under him remain the District Commissioner, Nyeri Central District (DC), the Divisional Officers (DO), the Locational Chiefs and the Assistant Chiefs. Government Departments
Various Central Provincial and Nyeri Central District departments of the various ministries of the Government of Kenya, and central provincial offices of several Kenya Government departments and State Corporations are also still based in Nyeri.Security
The Central Provincial Police Officer (PPO) of the Kenya Police Service, and under him, as one of the police divisional heads, the Nyeri Divisional Police Commander (OCPD)are based in Nyeri.
Nyeri is currently awaiting to be awarded the city status with a certified charter, however its recent growth proves that it is a city. The county assembly is composed of elected MCAs and a county governor. The county legislative system is also led by a county speaker. The Council is based at the Nyeri city Hall. Since the new constitution was promulgated, the administration is handled by the County Government.
Nyeri Municipality is a parliamentary constituency known as Nyeri Town Constituency represented in the National Assembly by an elected Member of Parliament. Hon. Duncan Maina Mathenge is the current Member of Parliament.
People from Nyeri County include:
- Mwai Kibaki, third President of Kenya from 2002 to 2013
- Stanley Mathenge, Mau Mau General
- Nicodemus Kirima, Archbishop of Nyeri Archdiocese
- Wangari Maathai, Nobel peace prize winner
- Dedan Kimathi, Mau Mau resistance leader
- Waruhiu Itote, Mau Mau war general
- Muthui Kariuki, Former Government Spokesman
- Catherine Ndereba, Olympic marathon Silver Medalist
- Charles Mangua