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Kendu Bay wakes up from deep slumber

By NICK OLUOCH | August 22nd 2013
By NICK OLUOCH | August 22nd 2013

After stagnating for over two decades, Kendu Bay, which in its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s basked in unparalleled glory as an entertainment hub and a regional economic powerhouse, is showing signs of regaining its original glamour, writes NICK OLUOCH.

In its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, Kendu Bay was popularly referred to as the entertainment home in the entire Nyanza region with revellers and musicians literally camping in the small town throughout the year.

Kendu Show, the town’s agricultural show, was the main attraction in the region, bringing together both exhibitors and show-goers from across the East African region in what was one of the most popular agricultural events in the entire western region.

Aided by booming business brought about by the vibrant trade between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the port town of Kendu Bay was one of the busiest towns in the region, at times even threatening to overshadow the region’s economic powerhouse, Kisumu.

Water Hyacinth

But in the late 1980s, all that changed as water hyacinth started blocking the then unsullied beaches, completely covering them. With the water hyacinth went the town’s glamour.

“Suddenly, the hitherto busy port was replaced by a silent town with no activity,” David Awiti, a trader in the town, says, adding that with no ships docking with imports from Uganda and Tanzania, it was inevitable that the town would experience economic stagnation.

Awiti says the town came up mainly as an economic centre as traders from the three original East African countries — Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania — converged there to trade as the town served both as an entry-point for goods from Uganda and Tanzania, and also as a departure point for Kenyan goods going out of the country.

“With the value of trade that was being experienced in the town, it was natural that the provincial administration then followed them,” Awiti says, adding that the government sent in provincial administration officers to help in managing the town.

Another reason that greatly contributed to the rise of the town was the arrival of the Adventist Missionaries in the town back in 1906.

The missionaries are believed to have liked the quiet port town next to the lake and settled there, setting up a church at Gendia, where the church’s Kenya Lake Conference headquarters is situated.

“There were hundreds of people who come to worship here and some to work at the church headquarters,” Awiti explains. Because of this, the town expanded to most areas where the old town is located.

In 1920s, Arab and Asian merchants started arriving, leading to rapid growth of the town. By the 1940s, Kendu Bay had become one of the major towns, thriving both as a commercial centre and as an entertainment centre.

And then came the construction of the Kendu Bay-Homa Bay road between 1971 and 1974, which did not go through the town’s centre as many had expected, but bypassed the town instead.

“This was the beginning of the end of the old Kendu town as it was known then,” Hassan Owino, a resident of the town, says.

Traders quickly shifted from the old town to the current town, known as Kendu Bay town, which is mainly based along the main road. But all changed with the coming of the hyacinth, and between 1986 and 2004, the town experienced stagnation with very little business going on as businessmen moved out because of inaccessibility through Lake Victoria.

Among the sectors most hit by this stagnation was real estate, which simply went dead as people did not see any reason to build a house within the town.

“With the old town already dead, the new Kendu town did not fare any better,” Owino says, adding that prices of land and rental houses took a nosedive.

For a long time, both residents and visitors have been jokingly describing Kendu Bay as the “town whose name is bigger than the town itself”.

Visitors who had heard the name of the town being mentioned endlessly would be taken aback when they visited the town for the first time and saw just how ‘small’ the town was.

Obama senior

However, in the last one decade, the town has woken up from its two-decade slumber and is currently one of the fastest growing towns in the region.

This has been mainly helped by electicity in 2006, which had been lacking since the town was founded. Transport system to and from the town has also improved, making it accessible to the business community willing to trade within the town.

According to Joseph Omondi of Lantern Investment Company Limited, a real estate company based in Nyanza, the completion of the Homa Bay-Katito road in 2011 has greatly helped in opening up the town for investors.

“The port is still not being used and might never be used again, but the roads are opening up the town at last,” he says, adding that the town can now be easily accessed from Migori, Homa Bay, Kisii and Kisumu which is about 40 kilometres away.

And the population of the town has almost doubled from about 30,000 in 1999 to over 50,000 today as many more continue to move into the town, which is fast regaining its lost glory.

The locals are still proud of the town’s history, like being the place of birth of Barack Obama Senior (his parents, originally from K’ogelo, were staying in Kendu when he was born, before moving back to K’ogelo), the father of United States President Barack Obama. The town has got the highest Muslims population in the whole of Nyanza and Western provinces, with mosques spread across the town.

Kendu Bay pier, however, permanently stopped operating in the early 1980s as the hyacinth covered all the beautiful beaches and with it lake transport, which used to be managed by the East African Harbours Corporation, stalled.

Lantern Group is among the firms moving in to invest in real estate within the town. According to Omondi, the fact that the town had stalled for that long means there is a lot of land for expansion, both within the old town and the current Kendu Bay.


“The low land prices is attracting to buyers who want to live within town and work in other towns,” Omondi says, adding that several construction projects are already coming up on the outskirts of the town.

Among the new developments coming up are hotels. According to Omondi, a number of financial institutions are also on the verge of opening branches in the town as business in the town starts to boom again.

Kendu Bay beaches show no sign of clearing as the hyacinth shows no sign of receding. Omondi says local residents had to look for new ways to make the town accessible for it to survive.

He, however, says there is still the tendency of most people building the homes to construct just next to the town centre, something he says will eventually be a problem as the expansion goes on.

“Electricity is still restricted to the townn centre,” Omondi says, noting that connecting areas out of the town will greatly help in decongesting the town and encourage more investors to venture into areas further afield.



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