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Why Kisumu residents are staring at a gloomy Christmas

By Harold Odhiambo | December 23rd 2019 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Pauline Ocholla, a fishmonger in Kisumu's Jubilee market arranges her smoked and dries fish on November 27, 2019. The lakeside market is known for different types of fish prepared in different ways. She sells from Ksh. 200 upwards depending on the size. [ Denish Ochieng, Standard]

With some residents still struggling to recover from the devastating effects of floods, which displaced thousands in some parts of the county, residents are staring at a gloomy Christmas.

Interviews with several residents as well as spot checks across the county established that several challenges have cast a dark cloud on festivities.

But it is the healthcare system that has hit residents hardest, even as Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o’s administration continues to engage in a war of words with striking doctors.

The medics have been on strike for more than two weeks now, paralysing almost all activities at public facilities except the mortuaries.

The protracted strike means that residents will be marking the festive season worried about their healthcare.

A spot check by The Standard across a number of health facilities in the devolved unit established that the facilities were deserted, including the two largest referral hospitals; Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital as well as Kisumu County Hospital.

Joash Owino, a patient who had unsuccessfully sought treatment at the Kisumu County Hospital, is among the residents who claim there is nothing for residents to celebrate.

“The challenges facing the health sector as well as the high cost of living have made it hard for several families to spend on luxuries in preparation for Christmas,” said Owino. He said he was turned away by guards when he went to seek treatment for a condition he suspected was malaria.

They told him the hospital was not offering any services. Attempts by Prof Nyong’o to threaten to withhold the medics’ December salaries to make them return to work has backfired, with the medics vowing to continue with the boycott.

Prolonged strike

Last weekend officials in Nyongo’s administration engaged the doctors in a war of words, with both camps blaming the other for the prolonged strike.

While Nyongo’s administration is accusing the doctors of selfishness, the medics claim the laxity by Nyong’o’s administration to implement a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) they signed is what is contributing to the strike.

But as they continue to fight, residents are feeling the pinch of the stalemate, with the situation dampening the Christmas mood for some.

“You cannot have a merry Christmas when you have to dig deep into your pocket or borrow loans to get treatment at a private facility. It is a terrible Christmas for us,” said Winnie Akumu, a resident.

Kisumu Residents Voice Association chairman Audi Ogada decried the state of healthcare as pathetic and challenged Nyong’o’s administration to resolve the crisis.

A sluggish economy and worsening unemployment following demolition of small-scale business premises a few months ago has also dampened the Christmas spirit.

Tens of thousands of traders who were employed directly and indirectly in the stalls that were brought down are yet to get alternative spaces to ply their trade.

Attempts by the county government to construct some 500 stalls to relocate some of them have since stalled, following a disagreement with Kenya Power.

Another plan to construct a Sh350 million market also hangs in the balance over a disagreement with Jua Kali artisans who are also claiming part of the land.

When the rebirth of Kisumu started about a year ago, many were optimistic that the development would offer them a new lifeline.

This year, many residents were optimistic that the port would be reopened after the expansion that had been intensified by the national government.

This, however, remains a pipe dream, as the port remains dormant with uncertainty surrounding its opening. 

This, too, has dampened the Christmas mood for locals, who had been expecting a vibrant economy, with the port integral to the development, both for trade and tourism.

Unlike the past, where the stubborn water hyacinth, weed dampened the mood and paralyzed leisure activities on the lake, this year, the lake is clear but the iconic Lwang’ni beach is non-existent.

The beach was integral to celebrations and hundreds of residents visited it during Christmas period.

Now, however, only a perimeter fence resembles the iconic beach after Kenya Railways reclaimed the parcel it had been built on.

For some residents, thoughts of next year’s school fees has added to their woes, with some claiming that they have to be careful of their spending.

At Kibuye market, which are always full of customers a few days before Christmas, traders claimed business has not boomed like in the past.

Angeline Aoko, a cloth vendor, said the sales had been normal like the other months. “We were all expecting to make a kill during the festive season, but there is nothing to celebrate so far. People are not buying clothes like they used to in the past,” she said.

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