When you type “Hippo Point Kisumu” on Google Search and hit enter, your screen will immediately light up with a kaleidoscope of dewy-eyed descriptions and photos of colourful sunsets.
Websites waxing lyrical about adventurous nature trails and nostalgic boat rides will assail your senses like a presentation of delectable dishes inviting you to dig in and enjoy.
An entry on visitkisumu.go.ke describes it as “a great centre for organised boat trips on Lake Victoria or boat racing”.
The Kisumu County Government website goes on to say that: “Merry-makers, friends and foe find this the best getaway spot in the city to converge for the sunset and share some nyama choma and listen to some great tunes.”
But the colourful descriptions belie a darker reality. The site, which is one of the few public beaches remaining along the Winam Gulf, has become a cesspit of crime and decadence.
The three-acre plot lacks proper sanitation facilities and has no parking for vehicles. Liquor sellers pitch camp anywhere with little regard for pedestrian walkways, giving the impression of a medieval cattle market.
Pedlars, addicts and alcoholics have turned it into a regular jaunt for their nefarious escapades, making it a veritable latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
A property dispute has left the place unmanageable, making the situation irredeemably worse. Mr Alex Omondi, a resident of Dunga Beach, told Nation that revellers who stay past dark are often mugged, or worse.
“That place can be dangerous. Young men riding on motorcycles move around with knives attacking tourists with intent to steal their phones, money and other valuables,” he said.
His claim is corroborated by child rights activist and Linda Kesho founder Helen Apiyo, who said crime has been rampant at Hippo Point for years.
“It’s a drugs haven where pedlars lure young girls into prostitution. Paedophiles often take advantage of teenage girls and defile them in their cars,” she said. At the local police station, the Occurrence Book is full of reported criminal incidents.
An officer expressed his frustration with spiralling crime, which has created a plethora of social and security challenges. Locals, on the other hand, accuse the authorities of laxity.
Tourism sector players operating along the beach have complained of lack of licensing of liquor business at Hippo Point, resulting in unfair competition.
This not only denies the county government revenues, they argued, but also hurts legitimate businesses. Among notable businesses in the area include Lapal, Yacht Club, Acropolis and Dunga Hill Camp. Dunga Hill Camp proprietor Jagpal Sandhu said their complaints to the county government have been ignored.
He lamented that the illicit trade has been going on right under their noses for years.
“It’s a free for all. You can go there with your booze and sell it. We have complained to the authorities and every year a liquor licensing board meeting has been convened with little effect. We have complained to the police and public health officials but it seems no one wants to do anything about it,’ he said.
Dunga Hill Camp manager Nelson Owira wondered why the licensing authorities are reluctant to take action.
“How do you expect our businesses to thrive if the same agencies that are supposed to regulate and issue licences are not impartial?” Mr Owira posed.
He added: “Business is low and the bad economy is pinching us. If we are to continue operating our businesses, the government should give us a level playing ground.”
Acropolis manager Gabriel Osendo noted that traders who operate without paying any levies are able to offer lower prices, distorting the market.
“A lot of illegal things happen around that area. It’s risky for people who want to stay out a bit late,” Mr Osendo said.
He added: “Some order needs to be restored at Hippo Point so that it becomes a good public recreational area. We [legitimate traders] look like we are exploiting customers but they [unlicensed businesses] end up appearing more affordable.”
Kisumu County Police Commander Alphonse Kimanthi, however, downplayed the concerns, asking those complaining to report the matter to his office.
“I cannot say I have seen anything of that kind. For those who are complaining, they should come to my office and report what is going on there. I will then be in a position to take action,” Mr Kimanthi told Nation during an interview in his office.
“I have gone in person to the place and stayed there past 9pm but saw nothing suspicious. Now that you have brought it to my attention, I will investigate and take action,” he added.