From Bosongo to Kisii town: British soldiers’ hideout, now region’s trade hub

An aerial photo of Kisii town's expanding infrastructure.[Eric Abuga,Standard]

Originally known as Getembe, Kisii town was established by British soldiers who were forced to retreat from Lake Victoria following heavy gunfire from German soldiers’ gunboats during the Great War in the early 20th Century.

It was later named Bosongo, from ‘Abasongo’, in reference to the British or the white men who lived in the town during the colonial times, a name that has stuck to date among locals, despite changing its name officially to Kisii.

Kisii, said to have been chosen as the District Headquarters of the larger South Nyanza and Kisii region, is a major urban centre in south-western Kenya, with a population of 1,266,860, according to the Kenya National Census of 2019.

Commercial centre

The town also serves as the main urban and commercial centre in the South Nyanza region and the second-largest in greater Nyanza after Kisumu City.

It is a bustling town and home to several businesses, organisations, educational institutions and government agencies.

The region’s growth has been spurred by years of foreign remittances that end up in the real estate sector and agricultural sector.

The steady and consistent growth of financial, hospitality and health services in the town over the last 10 years can be attributed to a number of factors, including the increasing demand for socially responsible investment. 

According to area Governor James Ongwae, the new economic heights had compelled the Central Bank of Kenya to open a clearing and forwarding unit locally.

“Our secret lies in our human capital. This is evident in the bustling streets of Kisii town coupled with locals’ entrepreneurial spirit that has placed the county on the move. No doubt we are controlling at least 60 per cent of the money market in the region,” he said.

Mr Ongwae describes Kisii as a vibrant economy. “We pride ourselves in the 24-hour economy. The improved service provision including a better water scheme, walkways and not so stringent taxes are some measures that have attracted more businesses to the town,” he said.

In the past two years, the town has seen more than 10 major privately-owned health facilities come up.

The town is home to more than 14 new bank branches opened in a span of three years between the year 2015 and 2017 and at least six new savings and credit cooperative societies.

In the hospitality industry, several hotels have been opened, increasing accommodation from 1,800 in 2013 to more than 15,000 in 2020.

Through an urban economic plan, the county government and the Municipality plan to re-organise the central business district, the transport sector and the industrial area to boost the town’s economy and protect the environment.

The county and the municipality aim to ensure better land use, support trade and service sectors and increase market access to local produce.

Through the Sustainable Urban Economic Development programme (SUED), the UK Government has funded the construction of a fire station, and walkways in Kisii, and tarmacking of Nyanchwa-Falcon road to decongest the town’s CBD.

Covid effects

Due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, many small-scale traders lost jobs. This is why the programme is now constructing stalls at Daraja Mbili to accommodate more than 2,000 traders. All traders selling their wares along the town’s streets will be relocated.

The UK government’s Deputy British High Commissioner Julius Court says their support to counties is to foster balanced and inclusive growth, promoting sustainable urban economic development.

“We need to have an inclusive and thriving urban economic development that is climate resilient; public-private financing for climate-resilient infrastructure and help improve the business enabling environment.”

Kisii will receive Sh800 million in the project period.

Municipality Manager Nahashon Ongeri says the thriving business in the town is as a result of improved infrastructure and enhanced security.

Economy growth

“We strive to accommodate the large and small business people. They all contribute to the growth of our economy.”

The municipality seeks to expand the town and have more offices moved to surrounding towns and shopping centres for growth.

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