What I saw in Kisumu city

Governor Anyang Nyong’o

Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o gives a speech at the Kisumu International Investment Summit Expo 2021 at Ciala Resort in Kisumu on December 21, 2021.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

Kenya is a wonderful country. If only our bereft political elite would let the people innovate, grow the economy and unleash their genius, the country would be competing with Malaysia, South Korea, and other “tigers”.

Absolutely nothing prevents Kenya from playing in the champion’s league of nations. You just want the state to get out of the way, if it won’t help create an enabling environment for growth.

But once in a while, there’s a ray of hope on the horizon. A glimpse of the possibility that could be. I saw one such glimpse in the first week of January when Prof Peter Anyang Nyong’o, the governor of Kisumu County, gave me a tour of the lakeside wonder.

Prof Nyong’o is one of Kenya’s – and the world’s – most renowned political scientists. I’ve heard political charlatans aspiring to power say Kenya’s youth aren’t interested in history. Baloney.

Those who slander young people – in a bid to mislead them – want us to forget their sins. But we shouldn’t allow them to hoodwink the youth. That’s why we must tell the story of heroes such as Prof Nyong’o.

There can be no present, or future, without a past. In fact, the very youth themselves wouldn’t be here today without their forebears. Nor would they know anything without understanding where they came from.

The know-nothing platform of parties – such as UDA – is a dead end, a road to oblivion.

Rare scholar

Prof Nyong’o comes from a storied family in Kisumu County. He’s no slouch. He received a first-class honours degree in political science at Makerere University.

He was Guild President at Makerere.

He then obtained a PhD in political science from the world-famous University of Chicago.

He’s taught at the University of Nairobi and at major universities in Mexico, Africa and the United States. He’s been part of great think tanks, including the African Academy of Sciences.

He’s the rare scholar who scales the top echelons of academia but then pivots – effortlessly – and applies his vast knowledge to solve real world problems.

Significantly, Prof Nyong’o was a key member of the Second Liberation that freed Kenya from Kanu’s dictatorship.

What’s most interesting about Prof Nyong’o is that he never stopped publishing even after he became a politician.

A top-level minister in Narc after he helped bring Kanu down, he became a senator and governor of one of Kenya’s leading counties. He continues to write penetrating and well-received works of the intellect.

But it’s his work as governor that absolutely inspired me. I had last visited Kisumu in 2003 as chairperson of the truth commission task force. I remember Kisumu as a somewhat sleepy, restless town trying to emerge from the lethargy of the Moi era.

Today, the town I saw then has no resemblance to the vibrant classy city I saw a couple of weeks ago.

I attribute the remarkable progress in Kisumu to devolution, a key plank of the 2010 Constitution.

But if devolution alone was the key, then every county would be bustling like Kisumu. We know many counties lag behind because of poor leadership and the looting of devolved funds by thieving county officials.

Kisumu has been different, particularly under Governor Nyong’o. A few highlights stand out. First, I was amazed by the city’s cleanliness. I hardly saw garbage in the streets.

The city is a beehive of economic activity. The much-maligned Kondele isn’t the menacing place the media makes it out to be. I saw only much vivaciousness and zestful economic vitality, not violence. Human activity and comity were palpable everywhere.

The region’s agriculture, together with those of surrounding counties – such as Kakamega – have grouped together to create a productive synergistic economic bloc to maximise growth and productivity.

Governor Wycliffe Oparanya of Kakamega and James Ongwae of Kisii have been important partners to Governor Nyong’o.

While in Kisumu, I participated in flagging off the first ever KQ cargo flight to Nairobi with fresh produce for export to the UK.

Foreign markets

This has opened the door to broader commerce where local producers will have access to foreign markets. Governor Nyong’o was instrumental in this venture. He understands the value that investors – local and foreign – bring to the county. Agriculture, manufacturing, education, health and the blue economy are fast growing sectors.

Kisumu port has come back to life. The port is being dredged and the ferry – MV Uhuru – is on the cusp of being revived and completed to bring the lake traffic back to life to fuel the economy of the region.

Governor Nyong’o has worked closely with the national government on this key project.

I was particularly impressed by resurgent tourism and conferencing. Several world-class hotels now make Kisumu a hub for international meetings and tourism around Lake Victoria.

Governor Nyong’o has built on the legacy of others, but he’s clearly the driving force behind Kisumu County and the city’s renaissance. Give the man a second term.


Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua

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