The Story of the Kisumu Town Clock

Located on Oginga Odinga street in the middle of the CBD, it’s a tall Town Clock standing in the middle of the road, as a roundabout. It was unveiled on 19 August 1938 by the then Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Kenya HE Chief Marshall Sir Robert Brooke Pophan. Air Chief Marshal Sir Henry Robert Moore Brooke-Popham, GCVO, KCB, CMG, DSO, AFC, (18 September 1878 – 20 October 1953) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force.

The Town Clock was built in memory of Kassim Lakha who arrived in East Africa in 1871 and died in Kampala in 1910. It was erected by his sons Mohamed, Alibhai, Hassan and Rahimtulla Kassim, as the inscription on the Town Clock reads.

Kassim Lakha

Kassim Lakha’s father Lakho, better known as Lakha, was a hawker and lost his house in a terrible famine. Reduced to extreme destitution, he wandered from village to village in search of livelihood. His son Kassim, who was born in 1853, had to toil and moil in Kutch. Nothing is known of his early life except that he worked in a grocery shop.

When Kassim Lakha was 18 years old, he left his birthplace and boarded a dhow at Porebandar, with few Ismailis, and landed in Zanzibar in 1871. He started his work in Sultan Sayed Bargash’s firm (1870-1888). Within a year, he was well established with the Sultan. He was promoted to an advance position responsible for providing logistics to the Sultan’s campment as he toured various parts of his lands, including Pemba and coastal strip of Mombasa and Malindi up to Lamu.

He learnt how to cook for the retinue. He was tall, very strong, and well built and could lift a cooking pot weighing over 100 lbs. When he felt well settled, he called his mother and his wife, Ratanbai Pradhan with whom he had married in 1870,  just before he left India. They came both by dhow to Zanzibar by the end of 1871. In 1880, Kassim Lakha’s first child was born, a daughter Kursha. In 1884, a son, Mohammad, was born.

It is a known fact that most of the Indian Ismailis came to Africa with entrepreneurial skills in their blood, business in their brains and immense calibre to labour in their muscles, but with empty pockets. This illustration richly permeated the life of Kassim Lakha, who earned his bread and butter by the sweat of his brow.

After having worked with the Sultan’s firm for nearly 10 years, he moved to Lamu with his family, where he opened a small grocery shop. His family enlarged with the birth of Fatima, Alibhai, Hassan, Sakina, Rehmatullah, and Jina. He employed a Hindu teacher, Raval, from Zanzibar, to teach reading and writing to his children.

Kassim Lakha was a social worker and focused on helping the Ismailis who came from India. He was also appointed Mukhi of the Lamu Jamatkhana. In 1898, he and his family moved from Lamu to Mombasa, where he stayed for a few years to establish a small shop.

In 1903, soon after the railway reached Kisumu, this city became their new home. In 1905, he was appointed by Varas Alidina Visram (1815-1916) to be the inspector of all his shops in Uganda. His son Mohammad was also employed in the same firm as a manager of the Kisumu branch. The other three brothers, Rehmatullah, Hassan, and Alibhai were also employed in the same firm as junior accountants, where they learnt bookkeeping.

Kassim Lakha’s job required a great deal of travelling, which was difficult because bicycles and bullock-carts were used in and around Kisumu, while dhows were used to navigate on the lake. Because of such excessive travelling and poor medical facilities, he died in Kampala in 1910 of malaria. It should be recorded that a plague broke out in Kisumu in 1905, resulting in heavy casualties in the town. Without discrimination of cast and creed, Kassim Lakha hurled in the field as a savior by supplying medical facilities at his own expenses.

In appreciation of his invaluable services, the government built a clock tower in Kisumu to honor his memory. Sir Robert, the governor of Kenya, performed its opening ceremony on August 19, 1938.

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