Kondele ‘osemuoch!” (Kondele has erupted). This short phrase has become a cliché in Nyanza as the best way to gauge one’s safety in Kisumu County. If Kondele is calm, then Kisumu is.
Those visiting the region during political upheavals often inquire if Kondele is calm before starting the journey.
Kondele, a bustling dusty township in the outskirts of Kisumu central business district, is a global brand for all the wrong reasons. It is situated along the Kisumu-Kakamega road.
Kondele is the choice location for local and international journalists, peace observers, government agencies and other non-state actors as a measure of violence and crime in Kisumu.
Although the last decade has seen massive infrastructural and economic developments, the bad name of Kondele continues to take centre stage.
It lies within the northern corridor, which connects Kenyan Coast to the countries within the western parts of Kenya such as Uganda, Rwanda and DRC Congo among others.
Kondele stands out among other Opposition political hot spots because youths here are more daring and resilient, ready to face-off with the police all the time, even at night.
They are so obsessed with their political support for Opposition chief Raila Odinga that they are often ready to shed blood for him. Although most residents are engaged in small-scale businesses and are employees of matatu Saccos, a good number are also jobless, making them easy target as political hirelings.
The last two months has seen the area marred with violent political activities, which have cost lives and destruction of property.
Consequently, it has attracted attention of security agents who have since profiled the area as high stake criminal area.
And currently, the region has borne most of the brunt in the ongoing Opposition anti-IEBC protests. On Wednesday, at least 30 people were injured, seven of whom had bullet wounds after police unleashed terror on demonstrators whom they accused of turning violent.
Political demonstrations in Kisumu have had their references in Kondele, in which most instances have seen police battle youths engaged in blocked roads, burning tires and violent confrontation.
As a section of political players have termed Kondele an Opposition political agitation headquarter, others are of the idea that it has since reformed and is slowly turning into a violence and crime hotspot.
In the early 90s, an open field provided a better ground for political rallies, where leaders and their followers would meet to chat a way forward on various contumacious issues. But today, the area is one of those classified by authorities as a criminal hotspot, with police unleashing all their man power and machinery any time there is a political stalemate in the country.
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But according to Audi Ogada, former leader of the dreaded Baghdad, a vigilante group which operated in the area in the 1990s, Kondele is just a politically active zone wrongly profiled by the authorities.
Ogada, the Kisumu City Residents Voice Association chair, has accused police of negatively profiling the area to justify their actions against a people putting government into account.
“When we formed Baghdad in the early 90s, we were seeking to protect former Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga after the numerous threats from the KANU government over his political stand,” said Ogada.
He says the authorities may have been angered by the name Bagdad, the capital city of Iraq, which was borrowed from the fiery war between the United States and Iraq in the early 2000.
“But if you want to say Kondele is a crime den, why would supermarkets, hotels, shops and all these investments be setting up here. Why would police not have those criminals in court?” posed Ogada.
Former Nyanza Youth Coalition Chairman Odhiambo Nyamori, however, disagrees with Ogada, saying the area is slowly degenerating into a crime headquarter.
Nyamori, who led most of the political and activism demos against bad governance in the early 2000, says there have been substantial development on how such activities were executed.
“I think since about five years ago there is a big shift. Violent Street protests, looting, robbing of innocent people, illegal road blocks and extortion were not part of agitation previously,” said Nyamori.
According to Nyamori, in the past, agitations had proper structures where organisers would establish leadership, engage the public and educate them on why they needed to get to the streets, spell out the rules and monitor the execution of the demos.
He said all the carders in the society, which include the business community, the matatu industry, hawkers, boda boda operators, among others had their representatives in the demos to take care of their interests.
“It was possible to know who was in the demos, have them get orders from specific commands and account for each other at the end of the protests,” he said.
He continued: “But today, you lead people you do not know. The same group has the audacity to ignore your order to remove roadblocks or protect lives and property.”
County Police Commander Titus Yoma has shifted blame to local political leadership of the growing security concerns.
“Kondele has had a very bad name. It is upon the leaders to change the perception. When demonstrators engage in criminal activities we come in to maintain law and order,” said Yoma.
Kondele Ward MCA Joackim Oketch admits that criminal elements have infiltrated into the good cause hosted at Kondele, a situation which has spoilt the name of the area.
“This problem is more than just demonstrations. The national and county governments must come together and find an economic solution for the idling youths,” said Oketch.
He says police must change their strategy in dealing with the residents.
“Even if there are criminal elements, the law does not approve such indiscriminate shooting and maiming,” said Oketch.