As Kisumu gears up to celebrate 118 years since it was founded, its new governor Anyang’ Nyong’o is basking in glory after his government was voted the best-run in the country in a recent opinion poll.
Kisumu City matters because it is the third largest city in the country with a population of nearly 1 million people; it is the second most important city after Kampala in the Lake Victoria basin. It matters more because it is a gateway to Uganda and Tanzania, Kenya’s largest trading partners.
Yet by any measure, Kisumu is a sleeping giant.
It nestles snugly on the shores of Africa’s largest fresh water lake and the second largest fresh water mass in the world. It is a shame then that parts of it goes without water.
Years of neglect (blamed on politics) has left in its wake decrepit infrastructure in roads and housing; the drainage system was clogged up with uncollected garbage.
The town’s skyline remained clear with creaking old structures whereas informal settlements- where crime and insecurity thrived-became conspicuous.
For long, there were no good hotels in Kisumu and those travelling there booked return flights out of the city to save themselves the agony of sleeping in dreary hotel rooms. Economic activity for majority of locals remained largely unsophisticated with fish, the main economic mainstay, exported to other towns with nil value addition.
But all that is changing. In the last one year, Kenya Breweries has set up a Sh15 billion plant in the town; plans to terminate the third phase of the Standard Gauge Railway have been laid down; while the Sh1.7 billion Kenya Pipeline jetty on the lake will no doubt spur the dormant transport sector.
Additionally, fish exports to Europe have grown exponentially. Prof Nyong’o, its new governor has also proved a fresh breath of air. He truly wants to transform Kisumu. The sky is the limit.
Yet we cannot gloss over history. Kisumu suffered the brunt of our toxic politics. The frosty relations between founding President Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga the doyen of opposition politics and the acrimonious split of the EACC in the 1970s have held back the promise of Kisumu.
Successive governments did little to stir up the town, thereby squandering the opportunities Kisumu offers. Fixing the troubles of Kisumu will be a bonus in many ways. Most importantly, Kisumu anchors the economy of nearly 13 counties from Nandi to Kisii to Kakamega with a population of almost 15 million people; it has to prosper.