The monsoon winds filled the sails of the ships crossing the Indian Ocean from the Eastern Africa coast to the Southeast Asia sub-continent.
These ships were captained by Africans from Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, and as far south as Dar es Salaam and the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar. The captains knew when the winds would blow south-easterly, and they would then set sail, crossing the vast Indian Ocean to dock in Goa or Kerala, exchanging their gold and spices for textiles from Asia. They would return when the northeast monsoons once more filled their sails with power.
The economics of trade and the science of sailing were known to these monsoon-driven masters of commerce in East Africa of yore. They were creative. They dared the impossible. Failure was not part of their vocabulary.
Richard Dowden is right when he writes: “Beneath the surface of Africa’s weak nation states (today) lie old cultures, old societies and communities and a deep sense of spiritual power.” And I would dare add: a deep knowledge of science and technological innovation that never failed them.
Kisumu is in Kenya; Accra is in Ghana. Both cities have a history of being centres of trade and commerce in pre-colonial times, and also of suffering under the weight of slave traders and imperialist fortune seekers.
We in Kisumu learnt that, although colonialism had deflected us from a historical trajectory that would have led us far by now in terms of development, it is not too late to recapture our lost moment and, with the speed of monsoon power, make up for lost time and missed opportunities. As Satan says in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, “though heaven be lost, all is not lost!”
Hence our conviction is that Kisumu, and Africa for that matter, must stop walking with the chickens and begin flying with the eagles. And we have been even more passionate about this conviction since the Second Kusi Ideas Festival was held here on December 8-9, 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some 230 people attended in person while thousands of others attended virtually.
For us it was a successful trial run for the much larger ninth edition of the Africities Summit that we are hosting from May 17 to 21, 2022 to reflect on how fast-growing intermediary African cities such as Kisumu will cope with being the African metropolis of the future, given the challenges of global warming, overcrowding, and other problems of underdevelopment that our big cities like Nairobi and Accra already face.
After two days of intensive discussions at that Second Kusi Ideas Festival, we were more than convinced that the answer lies in pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps in the spirit of self-reliance, regional cooperation, and Pan-Africanism in this forward march to socio-economic progress that leaves no one behind.
We have since worked together with the national government, particularly the State Department of Devolution, to speed up preparations for the Africities Summit following the successful holding of the national Madaraka Day celebration here last June. On that day we displayed the splendour of the culture of the Lake Region in dance, music, and poetry. The re-opening of the Kisumu port, thereby relaunching maritime transport on the lake to re-awaken the vibrant blue economy that went under when the East African Community broke up in 1977, is yet another “Kusi moment” for Kisumu.
The provision of social services for urban as well as rural dwellers, particularly the poor, is a major challenge for us in Kisumu County. As a devolved unit in Kenya’s political system, providing health services is our responsibility.
Yet this responsibility is both costly and bedevilled by many ghosts of poor policy frameworks and institutional shortfalls of pre-devolution times. We have learnt not to cry over spilt milk but to be innovative within the resource envelop available to us so as to keep on sailing into the future as we seek to fly with the eagles.
Our daring initiative to have a homegrown health insurance scheme for the indigent (the poor or vulnerable) is beginning to pay dividends. We call it “The Marwa Solidarity Health Insurance Scheme.” At least 90,000 vulnerable families in Kisumu County now have access to free medical services under the Marwa (a Luo word meaning “ours”) scheme. Assuming that a family has, on average five members, that brings the total number of people under the scheme to 450,000 a population of 1.2 million.
We have invested substantial resources in improving health infrastructure, especially during the difficult times of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of our ambitious initiatives, like the Comprehensive Cancer Care Centre at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching, Research and Referral Hospital, are moving ahead at a fast rate. We have assembled a team of local and international experts in an implementation committee to drive this process in the spirit of Kusi, and the results are encouraging.
Our doors are open to ideas and material support from all the people who would be happy to sail with us in the rough and unstable sea that such development initiatives will inevitably face.
From December 19 to 22, 2021, hardly 10 days after the Kusi Ideas Festival in Accra, we shall hold an International Investment Conference to showcase investment opportunities in the county and will sign deals with potential investors. We do not want to participate in Kusi simply to share ideas; we want to put these ideas into practice by changing the lives of our people through capital investment. As it were, our post-Covid-19 economic recovery programme is based on focusing our efforts on creating more wealth through capital investment and expanding opportunities for productive employment in the agriculture, manufacturing, and service sectors.
Our project for affordable housing in urban areas, for example, may not succeed if it is not accompanied by putting money in the pockets of those who can buy the houses.
The sails of our ship must keep on getting the wind it needs in the form of growing incomes and continuous poverty eradication in our societies to enable it to sail through the ocean of development. In the final analysis, this is the bottom line for the Kusi Ideas Festival.
Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o is the Governor, Kisumu County