Nyanza residents are upbeat as President William Ruto begins a two-day working tour of the region expected to turn around the economic fortunes.
Although perceived as ODM leader Raila Odinga's turf, Ruto is keen to win over the support of residents going by Cabinet appointments and development projects lined up for the region.
And while the president will be unveiling a number of projects, residents are optimistic that he will consider the completion of the multi-billion Handshake projects started by his predecessor-former President Uhuru Kenyatta that are at risk of becoming white elephants. This is the President's second visit to the region since he was elected to office in August last year. He visited Homa Bay in October last year and promised to complete projects and revive key sectors.
Addressing a press briefing, yesterday, State House Spokesperson Hussein Mohamed, said the President will preside over the groundbreaking of affordable housing units in Homa Bay. The project will see the Government construct 5,000 houses to help address the housing problem in most towns in the region.
"You will recall that the president was here in October 2022 and made several pledges and as of today he will be returning to fulfill some of them. Key among them is the launch of the first phase of the 5,000 affordable housing programme for Homa Bay County," said Mr Mohamed.
Mohamed said the project is expected to not only alleviate the housing deficit in the county but also boost the local economy. The project will cover Homa Bay, Oyugis, Kendu Bay and Mbita towns. Ruto's administration believes the affordable housing projects will create employment opportunities for residents.
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"As the President has said before, the affordable housing programme is a key plan in the Government's agenda and one of the pillars of the Kenya Kwanza manifesto. It is not only about low cost and decent housing but also meant to create jobs for thousands of youths," noted the spokesperson.
The national government is working closely with governor Gladys Wanga's administration to deliver the project. The affordable housing project is in line with the President's manifesto that seeks to close the housing gap through delivery of 200,000 housing units per year.
Cumulatively, the programme has 376 projects set to deliver more than 599,000 housing units across the country.
The projects are at various stages of development with over 529,194 units planned, and out of this number 9,935 units currently ongoing, 22,490 units ongoing projects launched by the President and another 37,708 units contracted and ready for launch.
Homa Bay was the first county government to sign the affordable housing memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in April 2018. The county has set aside six acres for the affordable housing project. Another 38 counties have also identified land for over 3,960 acres for this project.
The president is expected to commission Homa Bay Municipal market and break ground for the construction of Homa Bay fish market, which are crucial to the economic transformation of the county. The fish market is part of efforts to revamp the blue economy.
The Head of State is also expected to visit the Kisumu Port. Ruto is expected to announce plans for Uhuru's flagship project for Nyanza that is yet to live up to its billing. At the port, the construction of MV Uhuru II at the shipyard is yet to be completed while operations have remained a closely-guarded affair.
The heavily guarded port is also yet to benefit residents directly.
A huge task, however, awaits Ruto in ensuring that taxpayer money does not go to waste and that the projects initiated by the former regime are completed.
"There are other infrastructural projects that the president will be launching and inspecting tomorrow including a visit to the port and making announcements there," Mohammed said.
He said Ruto has also lined up interventions for agriculture and infrastructure in the region. In Siaya, the backyard of ODM leader Raila, the president will commission the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology blue economy research hub. This will be Ruto's first visit to Siaya county since he was elected into office.
Questions, however, remain whether the president will also prioritize the multi-billion projects that were started by former President Kenyatta whose fates are hanging in the balance. Most of the projects were birthed in 2018 after the Handshake between Raila and Uhuru.
There are fears that lack of political goodwill by the new administration may render the projects white elephants.
They include the revival of the 67 KM Kisumu-Butere railway line, the Sh3b renovation of the Kisumu Port, the building of key roads, expansion of the Kisumu Airport and airstrips in Migori and Kisii.
Others are mega investments in infrastructure, tourism, trade, manufacturing, agriculture and the blue economy. Observers believe the projects will boost investor confidence and attract more regional investments if implemented successfully.
The 67km Butere railway line is still lying idle more than eight months after its rehabilitation was completed, with its rail metals now facing threats from vandals and scrap metal dealers.
The project was part of the rehabilitation of the Nakuru-Kisumu Meter Gauge Railway line that is already operational. It was tipped to revive the transportation of goods and passengers to Kisumu.
However, Kenya Railways officials claim lack of enough locomotives has stalled the efforts to breathe life on the Butere line.
A new railway station built to complement operations is grossly underutilised with only one train making a single trip to the region each week.