Inside big plans to transform Kisumu into modern city

Aerial view of Kisumu city on August 30, 2023. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Kanyakwar, located at the peaks of Riat Hills in Kisumu, is among the best places to catch a view of the majestic Lake Victoria, or Nam Lolwe, as the locals call it, and of Kenya's third-largest city, which kisses the lake from all directions.

The vast waterbody connects all four Nyanza counties - Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori - that border it and Busia in the former Western province and links Kenya to Uganda and Tanzania.

Lake Victoria is famous for fishing activities and less so for its potential as a transport hub. That could change, following plans by the county government of Kisumu to build the city around the lake with an intentional design.

In an interview, Kisumu City Manager Abala Wanga revealed a 50-year strategy that seeks to modernise the lake-side city, already earning praise for its cleanliness, to world-class standards.

"We are looking at Kisumu through a prism of 50 years to come and that is why we have created seven new growth zones to expand the city and are turning the city to face the lake," said Wanga.

Part of the plan by Governor Anyang' Nyong'o's administration also includes exploiting the waterfront to improve water transport and enhance the blue economy.

Kisumu City Manager Abala Wanga during the 2023 Madaraka Day celebration in Kisumu at Jaramogi Sports ground on June 1, 2023. [Michael Mute, Standard].

"We will have a marina, which is like a bus stop where all boats park," he said, adding that the move would open up the entire lake basin region.

Last week, President William Ruto launched the MV Uhuru II, a vessel built in Kenya that is touted to be critical in reviving maritime trade between Kenya and her neighbours. 

Also critical to the transformation programme is an industrial park that will serve as the main trading area and the construction of adequate markets to cater to the residents' needs.

"A city without an industrial area is not a city because that is the bottom line of trade and manufacturing," said Wanga, who noted that Kisumu would require 15 markets to serve trade and business needs.

But the city's transformation would come at the expense of tuk-tuks, which the city Manager revealed that the county plans to phase out as they "congest the city and the transport system".

In December last year, the county government directed tuk-tuk operators to only transport luggage and not passengers, a move the operators protested.

Wanga said congestion is detrimental to the growth of cities owing to the long hours spent in traffic jams, saying that properly-designed cities have effective public transportation.

MV UHURU II, a ship built by the Kenyan military, in Lake Victoria in Kisumu County, on October 9, 2023, after it was commissioned by President William Ruto. [Michael Mute, Standard]

He advocated for affordable and well-designed housing, allocating trading zones and recreational areas, setting up schools and health facilities, ensuring sufficient security and reliable water supply, and constructing a wholesome transport network with walkways, among others.

The city manager decried fraudulent approvals and controls that he said mess cities and their designs, stretching the available infrastructure and amenities, urging strict adherence to urban regulations.

"You mess a city by changing an area from a residential suburb to a skyscraper area without considering the water flow and sewer and drainage systems... We leave a group of people, sitting in a city hall or somewhere, to start messing up the design of an entire estate without considering everything," Wanga said.

[email protected]