Kisumu town boss Abala Wanga: I am ready to die for fighting Kisumu land grabbers
Kisumu acting town manager Abala Wanga speaks to The Nairobian about massive demolitions in the lake side down that have sparked fury online countrywide.
Would you say your current job as Acting Kisumu City Manager is your toughest assignment? ever?
Certainly. It is both challenging and tricky with huge expectations from the public because you are dealing with an emerging city with a lot of cultural grounding and emerging social economic issues. I also serve a diverse and cosmopolitan population with interests in the city.
How would you describe these challenges in a nutshell?
The challenges mainly spring from the transformation of the city. Kisumu has reached a threshold where it must transform and although we may not have control over some of the challenges, we have to shape them with clarity of vision.
Is it working?
People like to exist in comfort zones. So, affordable modern housing is not being embraced. We want to get rid of asbestos because it is hazardous, but some people would not want to hear of this.
There are people who have been living on land such as industrial parks, water fronts and other prime places that we now need to develop, but they do not want to embrace change.
When you look at the transformational changes, which one has attracted most resistance?
Land repossession. You know previous administration failed to protect municipal properties. Either some were dished out fraudulently through illegal acquisition or some officials charged the property for bank loans, and the banks sold them through auction. Some developed them and turned them into their properties. So, all these are challenges that have attracted so much resistance.
If you look at Oginga Odinga Street, there is no parking space as the parking lots have all been grabbed. No playgrounds in the estates. Pathways are blocked, and municipal houses stolen.
You have in the recent past raised concern over threats to your life…
It is true. My life is in danger and I have reported the matter to the police three times. For the last two months, people have been trailing me, intimidating me while others have been trying to lure me into traps. I have received direct threats on texts and phone calls.
People have held meetings to discuss how to eliminate me. I have asked the police to provide me with armed security, but no action has been taken yet. I was recently told by the police bosses that they were waiting for more deployment before they can consider my request.
Is it worth it, your life, I mean?
I am ready to die if that is the price I will have to pay for repossessing grabbed public land. I am ready to face the land cartels, many of whom have tried to seek audience to influence me without success and now feel eliminating me is the only option to protect their interests.
Do you know them, these people who want to send you to your maker?
Sure. We have narrowed down on some people, from politicians to crafty businessmen in town who want to protect their interests. Out of the 76 parcels of public land that we set out to repossess, we have only managed about 23. But we are not going to stop until we get back all the land.
I have the backing of my boss, Governor Peter Anyang’ Nyongó, and everything I am implementing is his agenda, idea and vision. I am his agency and he directs me to do what he thinks will make this city great.
How has this threat to your life changed your life?
I no longer go out for coffee or hang out as I used to. I have lost many friends, especially those who have become victims to the city’s transformation agenda.
These are the people who grabbed council houses, took land from the city, grabbed pathways and placed containers on road reserves. I am now almost a lone ranger, but I have no regrets.
The demolitions in Kisumu have attracted a lot of rage in social media…
There is that component of gutter press, demonisation through social media and lies about my social life attacking me from all corners, including bloggers and people who write anything to divert the attention from what we are doing. That will not deter us from our vision. We are focused.
In the middle of this kind of storm, what keeps you going?
It is focus. The Governor wants to leave a legacy, and this city must be transformed. So we see these as obstacles and obstructions which we will have to crash and get out of the way as we proceed with the transformation agenda.
Many small scale businesses have suffered from the demolitions; how do you relate with the common mwananchi?
I believe the common mwananchi supports this transformation agenda. If you go to Kibos, you will be stunned at how people have grabbed 105 acres which had been allocated for an industrial park.
We are not demolishing anything; we are merely demolishing structures put up on government land which had been grabbed.
What exactly does “transformation of the city” entail?
We are talking beautification and greening of the city parks, cleaning of the city and waste management, opening of drainages and sewer lines, street lighting, environmental conservation, sustainable city transport, designing the lake front, development of city markets and improvement of city facilities such as schools, hospitals and other social amenities.
Do you think the public rage over the demolitions will affect the Governor’s 2022 re-election bid?
I think the transformation being put in place will rapidly make the people of Kisumu realise that the governor has done a tremendous job in his mission to make this city a better place.
And people will come to appreciate the benefits of this work. I see this improving his standing.
What is your message for land grabbers in Kisumu?
Sometimes, change has to be pushed very strongly for success to be achieved. They will come to realise later that the changes the Governor is driving are critical for this city to transform.