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Locals connect to rich cultural heritage in city's 84-year-old clock

The 84-year-old Kisumu Clock Tower along Oginga-Odinga Street. [Washington Onyango, Kisumu]

A tall, imposing clock sits at the heart of Kisumu's Central Business District (CBD) and has survived the test of time, overcoming the destruction that was witnessed in past political upheavals.

During the 2007/2008 post-election violence where many buildings and infrastructure in Kisumu city were destroyed, the city clock was among the few notable structures that remained standing.

For anyone visiting Kisumu, the towering 84-year-old clock along Oginga Odinga street immediately grabs your attention. For locals, it is not only a landmark, but it also represents the rich history of Indian traders who settled in the town and helped build it into what it is today.

When the pillar was first erected in pre-independence Kenya, it was the tallest structure in the town, towering above other buildings, few that have survived to see the new millennium.

Standing at approximately ten meters high with a chisel-shaped tip, Kisumu's city clock resembles the old Elizabeth Tower, also known as the Big Ben in London, which is more than 100 years old.

The four-faced clock tower previously had two grilled metal gates at the foot of the concrete block, opening into a hollow space. The structure overlooked the sunken car park famously referred to as city square and was a desolate, run down part of the CBD.

In the dead of the night, menacing street urchins turned the hollow square into their hideout, lighting bonfires to ward off the chilly night cold and scaring off passersby. But today, after a series of renovations and maintenance, it has become a favourite hang-out spot for residents.

Locals visiting the town on weekends love to pose for pictures next to the clock, which has a long history, having been unveiled in 1938 by the then Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Kenya HE Chief Marshall Sir Robert Brooke-Pophan.

A marble plaque atop one of the gates partly reads, “This stone was unveiled by HE Air Chief Marshall Sir Robert Brooke-Pophan, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Kenya on 19th August 1938.”

The city clock was built in memory of Kassim Lakha, an immigrant of Indian descent who arrived in East Africa in 1871. Lakha left Kenya in 1890's and moved to Zanzibar before later making his way to Kampala.

For several years throughout the malaria plague, Lakha assisted medical facilities with supplies at his own expense. However, he died in 1910 following a malaria outbreak that killed many in Kampala.

To honour their father's charitable work, Lakha's four sons - Mohamed, Alibhai, Hassan and Rahimtulla Kassim - erected the landmark clock.

Documents stored by the city department detail the history of the clock that is among the most iconic features in the lakeside city.

Today, the clock tower sits at Kisumu’s prominent Oginga Odinga roundabout, on the intersection of Kampala road and Mosque road. Once the tallest structure in Kisumu town, it has now been dwarfed by skyscrapers fighting for space in the booming port city.

Last year, the Kisumu county administration launched a programme to restore landmarks in the city as part of a beautification project undertaken with support from the World Bank Group through the Kenya Urban Support Programme and the Kisumu Urban Project.

The city transformation project dubbed under the slogan ‘My City, My Place’ aimed to enhance aesthetics through the beautification of roundabouts, gardens, parks and open spaces.

Kisumu Concrete Products (KCP) Limited chose to refurbish the 84-year-old clock tower that has continued to stand out as a heritage site in the city.

“The tower represents rich pre-colonial, post-colonial, and modern era history that need to be preserved. This is why the County Government of Kisumu went at full lengths to ensure it is renovated as it will continue to define the city for many years to come,” said Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o.