Kisumu County is very strategic to the growth and development of the key industries in Kisumu, and not just Kisumu but the western Kenya region. Sitting as the most central point of the Lake Victoria basin, it holds the keys to unlock industrial growth and development of the local economies. Experts opine that, Kisumu is the headquarters of the Lake Basin region, if not the EAC.
But then again, Kisumu had very many thriving industries in the 80s and 90s. All these came a cropper when mismanagement, ineptitude and corruption took center stage in the mostly government run sectors in those days. Many of those industries resorted to massive layoffs and eventual closure.
So, what makes these industries even more important towards the revival of Kisumu in to industrial hub it should be?
- Cotton farming (KICOMI) – this is one industry that provided income to the local communities. Lowland areas of Nyakach were one region in the county that saw many people delve into this farming trade. Cotton is highly profitable, and the world is now developing a booming fashion-dom that has seen many a designers develop skills and talents in fashion design locally and internationally. Cotton farming and revival of the defunct KICOMI in Kisumu will this create jobs for the youth who because of lack of jobs have gone into drugs and petty robberies incidences be employed at the factory.
- Sorghum (Breweries) – this is one firm that provided jobs to many a local before it went under. This also calls for the revival of sorghum farming which also was swept under the carpet with the collapse of this brewer. Its operation once again will be a blessing for many people who eked a living from sorghum farming and the factory.
- Fish farming and fish processing – the freshwater lake L. Victoria was once the marvel of the locals as fish was in plenty and cheap until the runaway menace – water hyacinth reared its ugly head, taking control of key fishing shores dotted around the lake. Every single evening there would be lights – torches as well as lanterns that were used by the fishermen to bring back fish the next morning. It was a sight to behold. Unluckily, the hyacinth came and the rest has been history. Fish prices soared to sky-high, fishermen downed their fishing gear and boats and the young locals (read – the Gen-Z the digital generation) have never known the real beauty of the lake. I once heard a kid tell her mum to look at the expansive “swimming pool” – apart from the green menace (hyacinth). This lake can be brought back to life once again if resources can be channeled into removing the weed and bring it back to life. The shores around Kisumu were dotted with boats that also provided tours to the City’s visitors; this never happens currently. At the same time, fish processing firms would come up and provide jobs and opportunities to process fish in the county and use the newly renovated airport (Kisumu International Airport) for fish export purposes. We call upon the governor’s office to look into this with urgency.
- Sugarcane farming – this region plays home to at three major sugar factories – Chemelil, Muhoroni and Kibos sugar which together becomes the biggest sugar manufacturing county conglomerate in Kenya. This is a big potential for this county and has a very big market potential for the county to realize unmatched revenue streams. The almost defunct firms – Chemelil and Muhoroni needs a strategic investor privately who is required to inject the capital that would make them come off-ground again and provide jobs.
- Rice farming – Kisumu County sits strategically to host one of the rice paddies in Kenya – the Ahero Irrigation Scheme (AIS). This scheme has the potential to produce enough rice to feed the whole county population and also feed the neighboring counties. AIS would produce rice stock that by far supersede the combined maize-corn production from the small scale subsistence farming practiced by the locals (because all other industries failed – cotton, sorghum and fishing). This is a gold mine that should be exploited. I would be very proud indeed to see locally produced rice branded “Ahero Rice” being displayed on the shelves of the local marts. At the same time provide source of income to locals who live in this rice belt.
With Kisumu hosting one of the national stadia in the country under Fifa radar – and currently being renovated, this county is poised to benefit as a sports tourism destination. Current sporting disciplines that would easily find home and be pitched at the stadium include soccer (with Gor Mahia already showing interest to have this space as one of its home grounds apart from City stadium in Nairobi), to host local matches targeted for Western Province – Mumias Sports Complex and Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega; local youth soccer leagues; also rugby’s Dala Series (through the Kisumu Rugby Football Club comes to mind) can be easily hosted here as well as other field sports as basketball, tennis, volleyball, hockey among others. We hope the City County office can come up with sports gymnasia with courts and pitches for these indoor games as well. Opportunities in this area are so vast.
Boat racing competitions can also be organized in the lake and will be used as a tourism tool and attraction to visit the lakeside city at particular times in the year to participate bringing competitors from neighboring counties and countries. Infrastructure is needed to make this multimillion sporting sector is very much paramount. Bike tourism or racing competition together with the yearly rally series is just but a tip of the sporting potential of this county.
Information Technology infrastructure
in order to build and have a smart city, we need to think about what kind of IT infrastructure is needed by the locals here. I would like to see some county inspired internet hotspots in particular areas in the city, to spur the innovative potential of the digital population that forms the greater number of the residents here. IT also holds the key for timely, effective and easier services delivery. Health cases are able to be communicated faster using simple apps in handheld gadgets – read smart-phones.
City’s/County’s information being made easily available through the world-wide-web, and the local residents being able to track progress of key issues that are affecting them anywhere, anytime. Kisumu needs a digital revolution! Thankfully, a community is coming up with an initiative dubbed the LakeHub, which will try to address the technological gaps apparent in this town. They intend to house tech innovators who will come up with simple IT apps that will address gaps in service delivery from transport, health, agriculture, education, gaming among others.
For this to be successful, the support of the county government would be invaluable as well as residents/industry players who have various ideas or seek solutions to business problems they face. The world has gone so digital that information is important to be circulated widely, cheaply and available. This page is currently aggregating local information and opportunities for the residents’ benefit and consumption needs. It also provides advertisement space for homegrown enterprises to show what they got.
Tourism and Transport
Tourism is big business here, with many unfounded destinations and sporting potential of the lake not yet exploited. Am foreseeing parties being done in the lake as people take tours in the vast waters, conference tourism opportunities with the city hosting some of the major international NGOs which carries out conferences locally and are in need of facilities. This calls for the establishment of more modern hotel facilities that will meet the rising demand of bed space. Currently, the supply is not met yet the need/demand is at its peak. Also, this calls for the establishment of an effective tours groups/travelling companies.
Kisumu is very central to the success of the Western Tourism Circuit, and neighboring the various tourism destinations of Western Region (Kakamega, Bungoma, Kitale, Mbita and surroundings). Again, it provides the easiest connection to the great Mara wilderness than Nairobi. This calls for a paradigm shift in the thinking of the tourism stakeholders to realign the county and the region to this massive potential.
Lake transport is also one major strength in Kisumu County that it has over all the other towns and cities in East Africa. Kisumu used to connect the lakeside towns in the three East African countries by providing linkages for goods and services exported through the Mombasa port.
- The Kisumu Port used to host big ships that carried fuel, raw materials etc through it. The establishment of the railway line also provided much impetus in this sector. And, the new SGR line to be connected will once again play this central role to provide faster passenger travels to Nairobi, and even Mombasa at the same time provide an easier way to transport fuel and other goods to Uganda, Tanzania and even DRC.
- The Kisumu International Airport also has opened up the region and provides a lot of connecting flights to Western Kenya region and even to Nairobi.
Am seeing Kisumu County being one of the counties that by year 2030 will have built enough capacity to provide jobs through the above industries and buy itself out of the bad names of violence and idleness of its residents. This needs collaboration between the drivers – the county fathers and the residents to work together to build Kisumu County into the biggest financial and business infrastructure south of Sahara.