Kakamega the Sleeping Bull

Town of the big broom cries out for sweeping

A stranger to Kakamega town would be forgiven to conclude bicycles outnumber people.

Hundreds of ‘boda boda’ taxis line every street in the Western provincial headquarters.

In the main bus terminus, bicycles occupy every available space as their operators tout out for passengers.

Though the proliferation of taxis is typical of most western Kenya towns, transport industry officials say Kakamega has the highest number of these operators in the region.

The boda boda industry is a reflection of the high unemployment crisis facing the youth in most towns and who have resorted to the venture to make a living.

Modern Town

Kakamega is still referred to by most villagers as Ishieywe, the name of indigenous grass that used to thrive in the region and which makes big brooms.

The old name is perhaps a powerful reminder that this modern town needs a big broom to sweep away its myriad problems.

The high unemployment figures are partly due to lack of major industries to can offer opportunities.

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, during his homecoming in Kakamega’s historic Muliro Gardens, promised to host a forum to open up investments.

National Assembly Speaker Kenneth had reckoned that Kakamega has no single industry and urged leaders from the region to initiate industrial growth to provide employment.

The nearest industries, namely Mumias Sugar Company, West Kenya Sugar Company and Mudete Tea factory in Sabatia constituency, are all 30 km away from this town.

Most of the town’s workforce is employed in Government departments, the provincial general hospital, Masinde Muliro University and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari).

Housing challenges

It also faces critical housing and infrastructural challenges.

Accessing the town from Kisumu is a nightmare, given the sorry state of the 50km road link to the lakeside city.

Roads linking it to Webuye, Eldoret and Kitale towns are equally in bad shape.

Though the town has an airstrip, it is only used during presidential function and plans to expand it are yet to bear fruit.

Within the town, Sudi road is full of craters, but which the municipal council is repairing.

“Poor lighting is the reason criminals rule the town. People live under the mercy of criminals,” says Betty Iminza, a trader. The provincial seat also boasts a large slum population.

At every crack of dawn, the more than 3,000 residents of Makaburini slum leave their mud-walled shanties to face the day’s challenges.

“Here, it is problems from January to December and youths have lost hope and resorted to heavy drinking and drugs,” says the Makaburini slum chairman Mohammed Kachisa.

The town is also sitting on a disaster powder keg because the municipality has no fire-fighting engine.

Fire gadgets

Mayor Joseph Serenge says a fire engine worth Sh14 million bought by his council five years ago was under repair.

“The council has to pay Sh700,000 before the machines are released,” he says.

However, the town has its better side too.

It is home to rare animal species, ever green vegetation and beautiful indigenous trees, which flourish in the Kakamega Forest National Reserve.

It is the only surviving equatorial rainforest.

There is, however, no major tourist flow to this “canopy of natural beauty”, partly due to the poor infrastructure.

Kenya Wildlife Service Information Officer Jacqueline Ayuka says because of its uniqueness, the forest has become a must-see destination for school groups and researchers.

“Research students from all over the world come here,” she says.

Ms Ayuka adds that majority visitors come between May and October.

Majority of foreign visitors to the forest, located to the East of the town, are mainly from Europe.

Local tourists are charged Sh100 (adults) and Sh50 for children while foreigners pay US$20 (about Sh1,200) as entry fee per person.

Big Revenue

In 2007, Sh4.3 million was generated from visits to the reserve.

Ayuka says more than 380 plant species have been recorded in the forest. “Local people use about 50 species for medicinal purposes,” she adds.

She says there are 330 birds, 400 butterfly, 200 bee, 27 snake, 17 frog and seven primate species in the reserve.

The area was gazetted by the Government in 1985 under Wildlife Act CAP 376.

Apart from the forest, bull fighting in Ikolomani and Khayega areas is a popular attraction.

Also popular is the weeping stone of Kakamega, popularly referred to as Mkhongo Murwi in the local Luhya language.
Kakamega’s housing industry is struggling to expand, following a population explosion.

Following the upgrading of Masinde Muliro University to a full campus status, there is potential for development in the real estate.

The demand for residential housing is high around the university.

Increased population as well as growth in the number of businesses has re-ignited the property market. The human population is estimated at more than 300,000, though mostly driven by a rural-based economy.

Demand for accommodation for students and the teaching staff has seen buildings come up in plots that had formerly been idle in residential areas.

Rental charges have also gone up, with two-bed roomed houses going for between Sh8,000 and Sh10,000 a month up from Sh5,000.

Keen interest

Apart from private developers taking a keen interest in real estate, the National Housing Corporation (NHC) has also seen the urgency to join in.

The corporation is carrying out a feasibility study for housing units.

“Initially, our services were centralised in Nairobi, but now, we are spreading to other regions to provide affordable low cost housing and Kakamega is one of them,” NHC chairman Bosire Ogero told The Standard recently.

Last September, Housing Minister Soita Shitanda commissioned the construction of 80 houses in Kakamega’s Amalemba Estate.

The project, funded by the NHC, will cost Sh150 million.

Kakamega has few residential estates such as Milimani, Kefinco, Amalemba, Lurambi and Maraba.

Milimani caters for the high class, mainly senior Government officers and is situated near Kakamega State lodge.

Rent in this estate goes for between Sh15,000 and Sh18,000 a month.

HowKE Team

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