Restore the Cosmopolitan Urban Culture of Tolerance and Brotherhood in Kisumu

We the citizens of the lakeside City of Kisumu, those who were born and bred in this city, must rise up to the occasion to reclaim our city, to restore our urban culture, to educate new entrants on how we lived in this city in the 1990s, 1980s and 1970s.

Magnificent Jomo Kenyatta sports ground
Magnificent Jomo Kenyatta sports ground

The ever rising migration of young villagers from the rural parts of the county and all the other surrounding counties in Western Kenya region, into Kisumu city, a number of them bringing along their village mentality, is a major factor contributing to the ubiquitous and phenomenal violence in the city.

I had a chance in 2008 to participate in a survey to determine the groups that participated in the 2007 PEV in Kisumu, especially those who destroyed property and looted, and the motive behind their wanton destruction.

Without delving into the details of the survey, it was our finding that the hitherto perceived short term problem of labour surplus in the city majorly due to rural-urban migration, in the face of a contracting economy, is rapidly being converted into a long-term situation of chronic and rising youth violence and urban chaos. The situation of crime and breakdown of law and order, under the pretext of political rights related demonstrations, is undoubtedly not sustainable owing to its impact on Kisumu’s economy.

Oginga-Odinga street in Kisumu CBD
Oginga-Odinga street in Kisumu CBD

Majority of the participants in the 2007/8 PEV looting had not lived in the city for more than five years before PEV, They had come looking for jobs, and failing to get one, were hanging in somewhere within the city. They feel bitter that the economy was not providing for them.

They had no reasons to protect it, and indeed even thought that the momentary point of lawlessness provided an opportunity for them to pursue “egalitarianism” by forceful taking other people’s property. The first targets were were asian community, then the Kikuyu, then the Kamba, then the Kisii, then the Luhyia and finally the Luo, so long as you were perceived to own property or have money. A reason would be found to attack and loot your property. You had to pay “tax” to get in and out of certain neighborhoods.

The Tuffoam Mall along Achieng Oneko Road
The Tuffoam Mall along Achieng Oneko Road

While we cannot stop young villagers from streaming into the city in pursuit of the mirage urban opportunities as this is their right, we must insist that they shed off their village mentalities and start learning the traditional Kisumu urban culture. We must insist that these villagers do not stop us from going to work, doing business or returning home in the evening, under the excuse that they are “unemployed” and therefore, in excising their rights, they must “pay themselves” from our property or pockets .

Kisumu port
Kisumu port

Yes, we must all struggle to expand the pie in the city, so that it could go around. But will it ever go around? With the collapse of the agricultural sector in the regions rural areas, more young people will still be streaming in to the City from the villages.

The city will not be able to provide for all their needs, at least in the short run.But must we all leave in fear because a section of the population has not been employed?

We must initiate the City of Kisumu Urban Discourse.We must insist that the City of Kisumu belongs to all of us – Luos, Kikuyus, Kambas, Kisiis, Asians, Kalenjins, Luhyas, any any other group settled here, irrespective of clan, tribe, race, color of skin etc. We all have a right to live here, whether we were born here or not, whether we are unemployed, employed or doing business. But we equally have a responsibility to respect other people’s rights to live, trade and be employed here.

We must exert our right as the citizens of Kisumu city, even as we inculcate urban culture through mass education to the new entrants into the city. Otherwise, we will have no city to live in.


By Joshua Nyamori, via Facebook

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