The Sugar Capital-Mumias

Mumias town is Kenya’s leading sugar cane producer. Evidence of sugar is all over the town and its environs. But there is more to sugar in this western Kenya town of 30,000 people than meets the eye. The town is also western Kenya’s melting pot of culture and religion. Mumias town which became an urban council in 1988 has the richest history among the towns in the province.
Formerly known as Lureko, Mumias is the the ceremonial seat of the once powerful Luhya kingdom of Wanga. King Nabongo Mumia, who assumed power in 1880 and was the last sovereign of the Wanga, reigned from Mumias.The town has a rich history related to the Wanga kingdom, Islam and the Anglican Church. It is also home to Mumias Sugar Company.
People speak with pride and nostalgia about ‘our kingdom’ although its influence is now only ceremonial.
After the death of Mumia in 1949, his son Shitawa succeeded him. He led over the kingdom till late 1970s. Mumia II succeeded Shitawa, but he does not enjoy the trapping of power like his predecessors. The king’s role today is cultural, but the royal family still draws some stipends from trade in the town council. Members of the Wanga royal family, including the king, are still closely linked to political leaders as well as their royal ties of the Abashitsetse clan.In line with its history, the mayor of the town, Mr. Patrick Sakwa, is referred to as “meya wa bawanga” [Wanga’s mayor].
Muslims have a presence in the town because of the past trade links between the Wanga kingdom and coast before independence.
The town, is the headquarter of Mumias district, hived off Butere Mumias. Mumias Sugar Company is the economic power house of the town. It is also the major employer.The mayor says plans are afoot to expand the town to fit the status of the city. The council has installed streetlights on major streets, courtesy of the sugar miller. Other development plans lined up for Mumias include sh.1.1 billion projects- building water, sewerage and sanitation infrastructure financed by the World Bank.Local MP. Ben Washiali says the project will supply the town with clean piped water and build a modern sewerage system. Mr. Washiali says there are plans to establish a sugar technology campus affiliated to Masinde Muliro University of science and technology in the town.He says the college would conduct research and improve sugar production in the region. Sakwa says five acres have been set aside for the campus, and hopes it will turn the town into an academic centre. Mumias boasts schools such as the St. Peters Mumias boys’ secondary school, St. Mary’s girls and Booker academy.The mayor says another five acres has been set aside for building houses by the national housing corporation. We are prepared for major developments as soon as we expand the bus park to carter for motorcycle and boda boda (bicycle) operators Sakwa explains. He says the plan has to be implemented now that a Ksh 20 daily levy on motorcycles has been introduced.
The Aids scourge has not spared the town. To help fight the disease, a local NGO, Poverty Eradication and Health, has trained more than 250 peer educators and sponsors more than 20,000 residents affected by HIV and Aids. Executive Director Justine Mutobera says more than 300 grandmothers take care of Aids orphans in the district. The town has contributed to the spread of the scourge courtesy of the sugar factory says Mutobera.
The town which was part of the larger Kakamega district lags behind in terms of growth. Apart from establishing a campus, the town lacks middle level tertiary institutions. But residents say with its elevation to a district they expect Mumias to grow due to the influx of civil servants. This they say would attract more investors to the town thus spurring economic and social growth.
Mumias is one of the oldest towns in Western Kenya. It could be an attractive destination for investors and tourists it’s well marketed. The Nabongo cultural center is one of Mumias town council’s efforts to boost tourism. Prime Minister, Raila Odinga opened the cultural centre in the outskirts of Mumias near the traditional homestead of Wanga Kings in Matungu last year.

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