Welcome to Kisumu, and let us find a way to rise from this human tragedy

Wednesday December 09 2020
Kisumu Port.

An aerial view of Lake Victoria showing the newly refurbished Kisumu Port (front) and Kisumu Oil Jetty (back). PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By Anyang’ Nyong’o

Holding the Kusi Ideas Festival, in collaboration with the Nation Media Group, is a great opportunity for our city and our county. To host guests from far and wide, actually and virtually, at a time when human interaction is severely limited by the necessity to keep safe from Covid-19 is a challenging responsibility. I welcome all our guests to this lakeside city, the gateway to the communities in East Africa whose lives are greatly influenced by our blue economy.

We shall take time to discuss and reflect on how we shall rise from the human tragedy that this pandemic has brought us, knowing that through the mutual social responsibility that has always been central to our communal lives, we can build an even more prosperous and resilient future in East Africa.

We, the nations around Lake Victoria, are all members of the East African Community. The community itself has had its fair share of problems in the past, even breaking up altogether in 1978. But like the proverbial owl of Minerva, the community shall rise again and fly high as a new African success story, saying goodbye to the dusk of our underdevelopment.

After all, before the modern technology of the steam ship was discovered, we had prosperous trade with Asia, travelling across the Indian Ocean in wind-driven sailing ships, hence the origin of the "Kusi Trade" from which this festival derives its name. We would have achieved even more with this old technology had the slave trade not interrupted us.

This festival is, therefore, held at a time when Africa is positive about her future, looking forward to our cities growing in a planned way as homes to productive people who can feed themselves and sustain good health for all. Giving our farmers all the support needed to feed our growing populations should be the strength of our economies and not their curse. Our youth, our women, and the elderly must surely find a place to feel at home in our societies because they will be politically, economically, and socially inclusive.

This Kusi Ideas Festival will give us a moment for dreaming big dreams in an atmosphere as relaxed as no other. Here in Kisumu we believe that enjoying life is a lifestyle, which is never taught at school: it comes naturally to all who happen to be here. Please enjoy the hospitality of our people.


We have a city that is bubbling with change. There is always something new in Kisumu. Our port, which lay in disuse since 1978, has just been rebuilt, refurbished, and rebranded by the national government. Maritime transport across the lake to Uganda and Tanzania is resuming at an encouraging pace. Entrepreneurs are eyeing the lake for business opportunities in transport, leisure, and tourism. The Lakefront Development Corporation, an entity of the Kisumu County Government, is building a 46-kilometre promenade on the north-western shore of the lake to open it up for leisure, tourism, and the hospitality industry.

As the city waits for the arrival of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Naivasha, the century-old Meter Gauge Rail-way (MGR) is being revived for both passenger and freight transport from Nairobi through Nakuru. As one takes this legendary Lunatic Express to the hinterland through the Rift Valley, one passes through the lash sugar belt soon after leaving Kisumu. This belt will soon be home to a Special Economic Zone of 2,000 acres, ready to house industrial, commercial, and financial investments from all over the world.

This, indeed, is the moment to be in Kisumu as we prepare for yet another conference in November next year – the Africities Summit. This will be the second time that Kenya will be hosting this coming together of leaders of cities and municipalities, and which will allow national governments to discuss how the African city of the future should and shall look like in the aftermath of Covid-19, as we also face other problems such as global warming and climate change.

We hope that our guests will make the time to enjoy the artistic talent that abounds in our city in terms of music, dance, and traditional art. Kisumu has in recent years attracted players in the film industry, with more and more movies being shot in the city and its vicinity. We are proud of the beauty of our natural scenery, being endowed with such wonders as the legendary Kit Mikayi, recently recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Not far from here is the famous Kakamega Forest, with its gorgeous flora and fauna, and bird sanctuary.

The Thim Lich Ohinga archaeological marvel, another Unesco World Heritage Site, is only a few hours’ ride away, in southern Nyanza. If you take some time off to relax around the lake, you will be spoilt for choice. There is the Vila del Sol holiday resort on the shores of the lake, a few kilometres west of the airport. A two-hour boat ride will take you to Takawiri or Mfangano islands, both of which have gorgeous holiday resorts. Rusinga island, reachable by air and boat alike, is home to a unique holiday resort situated right next to the Tom Mboya Memorial Museum, the home of one of Kenya’s most famous nationalists, assassinated in the prime of his political career, just like the two Kennedy brothers, who were his friends.

Kisumu's story would not be complete without a mention of our proximity to Kogelo in Alego, the home of the father of America’s 44th president, Barack Obama. His grandmother, Mama Sarah, still lives there and is always eager to welcome "pilgrims" curious to know about the ancestors of the first black man to become president of the United States. Kisumu opens the gates to such unique historical places in Luoland. But do I say? goes the common expression around here.

Your adventure is not complete until you have taken a half-hour drive towards the lake, to Bondo town, where Kang'o ka Jaramogi has become a great attraction to tourists and historians. This is the home of another great Kenyan nationalist, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the doyen of opposition politics in the country. Managed by the National Museums of Kenya as a historical site, the Oginga Odinga Museum tells the history of the struggle for independence in memorable photographs and newspaper reports. You will see photographs of leaders from across the globe who interacted with Jaramogi, including Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, independence activist and India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first Prime Minister and President.

I welcome you to Kisumu. Karibuni sana.

P. Anyang' Nyong'o, Governor, County Government of Kisumu