Kiboswa

The roundabout leading into Kiboswa market as seen from the Nandi County side on August 29, 2023. 

| Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

Kiboswa, Kisumu's border market that sells peace to Kalenjin, Luo and Luhya communities

What you need to know:

  • Kiboswa is famous for its variety of tasty tropical fruits such as pawpaw, banana and avocado, as well as traditional fish delicacies such as dried tilapia.
  • In many conflict-prone areas, rogue politicians have tended to fan the flames.

About 9.5 kilometres from Kisumu City lies a unique market at the border of Kisumu, Nandi and Vihiga counties.

Kiboswa is popularly known as the melting point of three cultures, where the Kalenjin, Luo and Luhya communities converge. According to historians, the name Kiboswa was coined from the Kalenjin word 'Tobosweet', a type of tree in the Sabaot language that grew in the area.

In Lubukusu - a Luyha sub-tribe - the tree is known by many names, including kumuchwichwi, kumutotoa, kumukunusia and kumutoboso. Others call it Musunzu or Omuswitswi.

From Kisumu, the dual carriageway around Kiboswa presents two scenarios. On your right is Nandi County and on your left is Kisumu. And just after the roundabout on your left is Vihiga County, with the border separating it from Kisumu County being the road on your left leading to Nyahera, which joins the Kisumu-Busia highway.

Kiboswa is famous for its variety of tasty tropical fruits such as pawpaw, banana and avocado, as well as traditional fish delicacies such as dried tilapia, commonly known as obambla in Luo and shivambala in Luhya. Peace in many border towns has been disrupted by recurrent clashes.

Kiboswa

The backstreets of Kiboswa market in Kisumu County on 29 August 29, 2023. 

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

In Kisumu County, Maseno, which borders Vihiga County, Sondu Market, which borders Kericho County, and Miwani, which borders Nandi County, have been the scene of disputes.

Some erupt after many years, while others are usually sporadic, triggered by cattle rustling, boundary disputes, historical injustices, incitement by politicians or conflicts over revenue collection.

Sondu is a case in point, with the most recent trigger being a disagreement between individuals at a Chang'aa den last Saturday, September 23, 2023, which degenerated into ethnic clashes and resulted in the death of a 29-year-old man. At least 10 people suffered deep cuts, arrow wounds and knife stabs.

On August 19, fresh clashes around Jimo on the Kisumu-Kericho border left two people dead, including a Form Four student on holiday, more than eight injured and scores of families displaced.

On July 12, 2023, locals disagreed over 'maandamano' (anti-government protests), which was not supported by the Kericho side, leading to two days of skirmishes that left three people dead and 18 others injured.

These are just some of the incidents that have taken place in the last three months. Coincidentally, they have all taken place on market days and Saturdays. 

But at Kiboswa market, on the Kisumu-Kakamega highway, the three main communities have lived in harmony for years, regardless of the political climate of the day.

So what is it that makes Kiboswa so peaceful?

Mr David Onyino has been running a hardware shop in Kiboswa, popularly known as Mona, for over 20 years. He believes that people have learned from past experiences to live together in harmony.

Kiboswa market

The roundabout leading to Kiboswa market as seen from the Nandi County side in this picture taken on August 29, 2023.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

"In the past, this place was very volatile and there was chaos, but over time we have learnt to live together in peace and even share a market," said Mr Onyino.

Revenue collection in border towns has always been an area of conflict.

"We are very organised in Kiboswa. In fact, the revenue officers are well organised and no one crosses into each other's territory," said Mr Onyino, who was born and raised in Nyahera, Kisumu North Ward.

The locals are so democratic that they even elected one Mr Samuel Dedeh, a butcher whose message resonated well with the locals, as their ward representative.

However, he pointed out that there are some traders who prefer to set up shop on the side of the county that charges less in taxes and royalties.

For Mr Justus Kipkemboi, it is the avoidance of tribalism by all residents and traders that has kept Kiboswa peaceful over the decades.

When you come here, we don't even ask about your ethnic background, so we have a market on the Kisumu side that accommodates all of us," says Mr Kipkemboi.

In many conflict-prone areas, rogue politicians have tended to fan the flames. But this border market is different, and locals blame local leaders.

We usually hear leaders from some areas spewing hatred, even in areas where locals have been living in harmony for many years. We are very lucky to have sensitive leaders who care about their constituents,' says Mr Kipkemboi.

Intermarriage between the three communities is also a major factor in the cohesion seen in Kiboswa, as Mr Kipkemboi explains.

For him, even on humanitarian grounds, one cannot harm a brother or sister for selfish reasons.

Our sisters are married on both sides. How do you start planning to attack your sister and your in-laws? This has actually created a strong bond between us,'' said Kipkemboi.

Dr Roselyn Onunga, executive director of Local Capacities for Peace International, which works with communities in conflict-prone areas to promote peace, agrees.

Kiboswa

 The roundabout leading to Kiboswa market as seen from the Kisumu County side in this picture taken on August 29, 2023. 

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

In the areas where I have worked, it is clear that intermarriage plays the biggest role in conflict resolution. In Sondu, there is a bit of a problem because of mistrust, but even in Muhoroni, communities have intermarried and this makes it easier to resolve any problems that arise,' Dr Onunga said.

Marginalised

She however pointed out that unlike Kiboswa where people are said to be happy with what they have, in Sondu there are some communities or clans that still feel marginalised and therefore perpetuate violence to prove a point.

However, the peace ambassador believes that Kiboswa has no major problems because the boundaries are clear. This, she says, is made clear to trespassers, rather than relying on oral declarations of boundaries.

Having a clear demarcation of the border really helps to resolve these conflicts and it's something that other border markets should emulate. It should be done in consultation with the community and in writing. If it is done, politicians will not have a field day using it to fuel conflict,' says Dr Onunga. Mr Sammy Mugita believes Kiboswa is peaceful because there is no competition for land and the communities respect each other's boundaries. By and large, the three communities have always seen Kiboswa as a market for their produce or a shopping centre when they need something.

When there is no one claiming the land, there is mutual respect among all stakeholders,' says Mr Mugita.

Mr Mugita, a governance expert who works with the Jifahamu Kenya Foundation, a non-governmental organisation involved in peacekeeping missions, pointed out that the same was happening in Serem on the border of Vihiga and Nandi counties.