About three kilometers from Malaba town along the Angurai road, motorists and pedestrians have a clear view of the road sign that reads Osere City.
A few meters past the sign lies a dilapidated mud-walled house that gave birth to the city. Located in Teso North, Busia County, Osere is not your conventional city, whose skyline is defined by skyscrapers, street lights, boulevards and a string of glass-fronted shops.
Osere is made up of a single line of modern shops on either side of the new tarmac road.
Its founder, 63-year-old Albino Osere, jokingly says it is Kenya’s fifth city after Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu. He is proud that Osere city is on Google and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has a polling station listed as Osere.
“Osere City is named after me. I leased a piece of land here in 1999 and erected a flat, tin-roofed, mud-walled building, where I started the business of selling kerosene and petrol. By then, there was no other building here. This whole area was bushy with no road access. What one could see were spaced out round, mud-walled grass thatched huts that the local people lived in,” he said.
Osere says he saw the potential in the area, which drove him to set up different businesses.
By 2004, he had saved enough money and bought a piece of land, where he built a modern two-door shop and rented it out.
This, according to Osere, is what attracted investors who built more shops that have today transformed the place into a busy trading centre.
He says most of his clients were Ugandans, who used to cross into Kenya to sell maize, sorghum and finger millet, since it was more convenient than going all the way to Malaba, Uganda.
Uganda lies barely one kilometer behind Osere city.
“Ugandan traders preferred the higher value of the Kenya shilling compared to their weaker shilling. In exchange, the Ugandans would buy paraffin, petrol, wheat flour, cooking fat and sugar that were in short supply in Uganda at the time. They also used to frequent Kenya to buy mitumba clothes because they were not only cheap, but also, Uganda had banned mitumba imports,” John Onyango Omoit, 84-year-old, said.
Osere reveals that the town also became famous due to the advent of FM radio stations that allowed listeners to send greetings to their friends and relatives, who would sign off as ‘so and so’ from Osere.
“The advent of FM radio stations allowed listeners to send greetings to friends and relatives and led to the formation of a fan club. The fans used to meet at my shop, where they bought cards and sent them to Emuria FM. Slowly, the town gained fame,” he said.
In 2015, Osere started a rumour that the then US President Barack Obama, who was set to visit Kenya, was also going to pay homage to Osere city.
The rumour stuck and visitors started streaming into the area.
“Osere started the rumour that Obama was scheduled to visit Osere city before being hosted by President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi. It sounded so convincing that locals, most of them with roots and connections in Luo Nyanza, believed it and made elaborate preparations to receive Obama in their ‘city’,” said James Otwane.
Locals appreciate the good work that Osere has done to make the town a household name. “Osere constructed the mud shop, over there, that gave birth to this city of ours. I am a member of the family that sold him the piece of land on which he built his shop, and I have watched this place grow,” 98-year-old Gamaliel Etetie said.
Douglas Okwii, a resident, heaped praises on Osere, describing him as a kind man with a big heart.
“Were it not for his lack of formal education, residents had at some point unanimously resolved to vote him in as their Member of County Assembly,” Okwii said.