Lake Victoria islanders find it tough to live without ferries

The county disaster and health officials in Homa Bay county fumigate a ferry at the shore of Lake Victoria in Mbita town.  [James Omoro, Standard]

Lack of ferries to connect Kisumu to the Lake Victoria islands in Homa Bay is making it difficult to exploit tourism and business opportunities.

People living in islands such as Ringiti, Kiwa, Remba, Mfangano, Kibuogi, Takawiri and Rusinga paint a picture of tough economic survival.

For many years, they have had difficulties travelling to the mainland, especially the lakeside city, which is the region's business hub.

Benard Ganda, a fishmonger in Remba Island in Mbita sub-County, said traders are struggling to open businesses due to lack of reliable vessels for transport to and from the mainland.

It is particularly hard to operate fresh produce businesses as traders are likely to incur losses due to delays.

“Lack of reliable vessels connecting us with the mainland has made many people fear trading on a number of foodstuff such as fruits and vegetable. Many fruits sold here are imported from Uganda,” said Ganda.

It costs Sh1,000 to travel from Remba Island to Kisumu, a cost the chairman of the Ringiti Beach Management Unit said would be much less if there were ferries.

“We used to board a ship, MV Kamongo, which used to operate between Kisumu and Homa Bay County,” said Ganda.

“We would pay Sh80 in 1989 from Homa Bay to Kisumu. We spent way much less than what we part with today on road.”

Ely Okello, who also lives in the island that is near the Kenya-Uganda border and is the treasurer of area beach unit, said it is difficult to transport bulky goods such as metal to Remba.

Engine boats, which the islands residents rely on, cannot transport heavy goods.

“We have only two boats, one that departs at 3am and another one at 12.30pm. The bad thing is that you cannot transport cement and metal for fear of accidents,” said Okello.

According to Bony Sidika, a fisherman and horticultural farmer at Kinda Beach in Suba, the vessels will create an economic boom.

“Transport and communication spur economic growth. Most of our towns along the shores of Lake Victoria will benefit,” he said.

The islanders are not the only ones pushing for the introduction of the ferries. 

“The vessels will enable us save a lot of money spent on travelling to Kisumu. We need them,” said Jack Nyamgega, a trader in Homa Bay town.

A ferry transporting passengers from Mbita town in Homa Bay to Lwanda Kotieno in Siaya County makes four trips a day. This shows the demand for such vessels is high.

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