Inside plans to transform Kisumu County


An aerial view of Kisumu town [Jacob Otieno, Standard]

Kisumu City could be headed for a robust remodelling to change its infrastructure outlook and development plans should the County Assembly endorse a proposed Kisumu Local Physical and Land Use Development Plan.

It is a plan that will see landowners with freehold titles lose their ‘powers to own’ when the documents change to leasehold if the House approves the proposal. The controversial plan also proposes sweeping changes on existing structures located within the city, expansion of the city’s borders as well as new rules on land ownership.

Already, a House Committee at the County Assembly is compiling a report of the findings of public participation, which was conducted last week on the proposals in preparation for a debate.

If all goes according to plan, that is part of a wider urban development strategy aimed at transforming the city’s outlook. The proposals project that Kisumu will be a Metropolis city by 2040, and will be a major city with great infrastructure developments and a robust lake-front setup. The proposals entail expansion of the city in three main spheres dubbed the Eastern Expansion, the Northern Expansion and the CBD’s expansion, with land use management at the core of the changes.

But the plans could come at a heavier cost than expected for some residents who have been enjoying land ownership as freehold for decades. The new plan proposes the change of ownership in Obunga, Nyalenda, Manyatta and Migosi areas from freehold to leasehold.

According to lawyer Mr Bruce Odeny, changing land ownership from freehold to leasehold will have adverse effects on residents, especially on how they use the resource.

Mr Odeny says the move means residents will now only be able to own the land for a while under the lease period and will be compelled to pay land rates. “They may not be able to take loans with their title deeds because the changes will affect the sanctity of the title deeds,” said Mr Odeny.

The advocate, who wants to challenge, in court, such proposals for Kisumu, says most families whose homes are in the affected areas will also not be able to bury their kin on the parcels. This means residents whose ancestral homes is in Obunga, Nyalenda and Manyatta slums will now rely on cemeteries. “Ideally, the move means that the government can now acquire the parcels very easily from their owners to effect any planned development,” he said.

Mr Ken Amondi, a constitutional lawyer however opines that residents will still be able to take loans using their title deeds but it will depend on the lease period on their parcels. If the land is freehold, it means that its owners enjoy permanent ownership but a leasehold means that once the lease period ends, they cease to own the land until they renew their lease.

As part of the plans to change the city to face the lake, all new commercial buildings within the city will be required to be constructed while facing the lake. “The high-rise buildings are proposed to be located at the CBD core area and gradually slope down towards the lake-front,” reads the plan in part.

Critics of the plan however opine that it will result in demolitions of some of the existing structures and render homeless some of the families whose ancestral homes are in the city’s outskirts. According to lawyer Mr Joshua Nyamori, converting the land from freehold to leasehold will introduce new development controls that might also result in demolitions of existing structures. “Converting land within Manyatta, Nyalenda, Obunga from freehold to leasehold tenure will introduce unspecified development controls and will be accompanied by the demolition of existing built structures and relocation of residents,” said Nyamori.

But Mr Nyamori says the plan is necessary but should be understood by all the stakeholders who are involved including the communities.

The proposals have zoned out various regions of the county with each of the regions having specific investments and land use plans. It has mapped out the outskirts of the city to provide high-density residential areas. Among the areas mapped out to provide residential zones include Buoye, Mayenya, Kasule and Chiga as well as several villages in Kisumu West where the plan proposes restrictions on the types of infrastructure that can be set up by locals.

The proposals also entail a plan to relocate schools located within the CBD to pave way for new commercial spaces. Kisumu Boys and Kisumu Girls are some of the iconic schools to be affected.

However, the plans to relocate the two schools may only begin in 2030, with a technical committee who developed the proposals, noting that the process is a long term project. The plan also intends to change the scope of housing in the city which is targeting the estates around the city where the devolved unit is eyeing to establish affordable housing for residents.

Old estates such as Arina, Kibuye, Kimute, Argwings Kodhek Patels, Mosque, Ondiek, and several others have been zoned to provide mixed developments. One-bedroom houses will be constructed in the estates while about 50 per cent of the estates will be set aside for the establishment of studio spaces. Estates in the outskirts of Kisumu, including Otonglo, Dago, Kajulu and Ojolla, have been set aside to provide spaces for high-density residential homes.

Along the Nyamasaria area, the plans propose that 50 meters from both sides of the Kisumu-Nairobi road be dedicated for commercial use. Light industries and entertainment joints will be allowed to put their establishments beyond 50 meters.

But it is the proposal of changing the land ownership from freehold to leasehold in several areas, including Nyawita, Manyatta, Nyalenda, Obunga, that is stirring debate.

The county government also plans to create a proposed lake-front recreation zone along the lake-front with Dunga areas among those targeted in the plan.

And as part of the efforts to ensure that the development plans become a reality, the county assembly is expected to debate the Kisumu County Regularisation of land ownership and Development Bill, 2021.

Yesterday, Mr George Olwal, the chairperson of the Planning Committee defended the plans and said they are vital in the process of ensuring that there is development in the city. He said that the basis of the plans is to ensure that there is controlled development in the city. “We are still looking at some of the proposals and we may expunge some of them as a committee and make amendments but the proposals are necessary for development,” he said.

Mr Olwal noted that they will take into consideration all the concerns that have been raised about the proposed plans.