Once bustling centre in the era of the first East African Community between 1967 and 1977, Kisumu City is slowly rising again in terms of road infrastructure and private investment.
But the city, which aspires on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria to become the nerve centre of the Lake Region Economic Bloc, will need more than plans.
Since the advent of devolution in 2013, Kisumu County has been working to attract investments.
One industry that appears to have heeded this call is hospitality, what with the modern new hotels and lake resorts that have been constructed in the past few years.
The road infrastructure has improved, with the construction of the new Nyamasaria-Kondele flyover on the busy Kisumu-Kakamega Road.
“Now that we have an international airport, we are lobbying for the building of a convention centre so that so that EAC countries can hold some of their meetings in Kisumu,” said Dr Evans Atera, managing director of the Lake Basin Development Authority.
While frequent power outages still remain a challenge, water resources have been developed, resulting in improved supply for consumption and industry.
The county, with over 150,000 unemployed youth, is looking for more investment in industry to create employment.
The manufacturing sector is yet to pick up, with locals currently focusing on the revamped East Africa Breweries Ltd plant in Kisumu that is supposed to provide about 100,000 direct jobs.
The brewery — which has started producing keg beer on a small scale — targets sorghum farmers in Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, and as far afield as Nyeri, Machakos and Tharaka Nithi Counties.
Kisumu County Governor Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o said: “We have already started an ambitious dairy project with the intensive the County government providing cooling plants and veterinary services. The outcome of these initiatives will be seen within the next five years.”
Prof Nyong’o added that the County is also creating jobs for the youth through Kisumu Roads Maintenance Teams and creating a Centre for Business Incubation and Innovation aimed to develop entrepreneurial skills among the youth.
But the blue economy, through the utilization of the Lake Victoria resources, that is currently preoccupying the governor and his team.
Kisumu Governor Prof Nyong'o spoke to Fred Oluoch about plans to grow Lake Basin economy.
What is your vision for Kisumu as the hub for the Lake Basin Economy?
Kisumu is critically situated at the top of the Nyanza Gulf on Lake Victoria where it has historically played a central role as a leading port.
This role diminished when the East African Community collapsed in 1977 but is currently being revived.
It is important to note that the Kenya Pipeline Company and Kenya Ports Authority have both set up operations on the lake, enhancing Kisumu's role as a leading port for maritime transport of petroleum products to neighbouring countries and the hinterland.
With the envisaged arrival of the Standard gauge railway in the next two years, and growing commercial use of Kisumu airport, there is no doubt Kisumu is poised to become the node of the economic development of the lake region.
How do you plan to make this vision a reality?
Our current plan and goal is to enable Kisumu to grow as the centre of the region’s Blue Economy, ensuring a business friendly environment guaranteed by good governance and a working infrastructure.
That is why we started modestly by cleaning up the city, opening drainage, installing street lights and improving revenue collection to finance our development agenda.
We are currently undertaking spatial planning of the city, determining the zoning of the city in line with appropriate investments that are environmentally friendly.
How are you engaging the business community in Kisumu and beyond to take advantage of the plans to revive the port and the expected arrival of the SGR?
I recently held a round table with the business community and discussed a wide range of issues, including how the SGR, the port, the KPC jetty and the airport will impact on the region's economy and the extent of preparedness of the county to profit from the forward and backward linkages.
All this is a work in progress. We are, however, determined to implement our lake-front project of making the city face the lake rather than turn its back to the lake.
We are working with several partners including UN Habitat to build a promenade on the lake front that will enable the hospitality industry in Kisumu to flourish and create wealth as well as jobs.
Apart from getting involved in marine transport by partnering with the private sector to manufacture fibre glass boats for use by fishermen, given the current danger of using soft wood in boat-making, we are encouraging investments in water games, cruises and marine parks in the lake.
The Blue Economy Investment Conference organised by the Lake Region Economic Bloc in Bomet from October 22 to 24 showcased some of the initiatives we are encouraging around the Lake.
How is your government coping with demand for land for real estate, factories and new commercial centres?
We have encouraged the development of real estate. A good example is Victoria Gardens, which offers you first-class town houses at very reasonable prices.
However, one of the biggest problems we have is availability of public land. Previous municipal and county governments, with the complicity of the national government, went on pubic land grabbing sprees.
The new Kisumu County administration has established a land task force, which has unearthed horrendous things, with some former public officials who are still around showing up in these reports as major culprits. We intend to repossess this illegally acquired public land with the help of the national government.
We are also engaged in building a land bank. We are buying land from the private sector and keeping it ready for investments.
In our urban renewal programme, we are partnering with the private sector to build affordable housing.