keroka town
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Explainer: Just what is at stake in Kisii-Nyamira Keroka town border row?

Keroka Town, which is at the border of Kisii and Nyamira counties and has been at the centre of a dispute over tax zones.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Sporadic incidents of tension, mayhem and chaos involving unknown goons have been reported in Keroka town since the advent of devolution, the latest being on April 11.

So, what could be the reason behind such incidents in a town originally dominated by a single community – the Abagusii?

Here is an explainer.

The tension comes from a boundary dispute that has now escalated to an Appeal Court in Kisumu.

In the dispute is the emotive issue of double-taxation of market traders concerning rents, rates, licenses and other statutory deductions.

A three-judge bench composed of Justices Hannah Okwengu, Ali-Aroni and Joel Ngugi is currently reviewing the matter after the Kisii County Government appealed the decision of an Environment and Lands Court at Nyamira that had initially determined the matter.

Also, the dispute could be linked to political supremacy battles between Kisii County Governor Simba Arati and his Nyamira counterpart Amos Nyaribo.

Arati is the National Deputy Chairman of the Orange Democratic Movement party. He has maintained that Kisii and Nyamira are composed of one Abagusii community that is under the control of the Raila Odinga-led Orange party.

On the other hand, Governor Nyaribo is the party leader of the relatively new United Progressive Alliance party.

The party, Mr Nyaribo argues, is the home of the Omogusii after the dissolution of the Simeon Nyachae-led Ford People Party in 2016.

UPA has a majority of MCAs in the Nyamira County Assembly.

Rigoma Ward MCA and journalist Nyambega Gisesa is the national chairman of the UPA.

It was Mr Gisesa who, in May 2023, petitioned the National Lands Commission, the Independent Electoral And Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the Kisii County Government, and the Ministry of Lands over the unresolved boundary dispute in Keroka - leading to the Environment and Lands Court ruling.

The conflict has led to an alleged loss of a boda boda shed worth Sh700,000 at Ichuni junction, Sh2 million worth of a public toilet and van, stalls and stock belonging to small business traders.

The Nyamira County Government claims more than 90 per cent of the town, and Kisi County wants a share of parts of the centre, asserting that the trading centre has expanded from the small market centre that it was into its territory.

Accordingly, Kisii County is claiming ownership of more than 50 per cent of the town.

On the other hand, the Nyamira County Government, in January 2024, changed Keroka into a municipality due to what the county assembly found to be its steady growth over the years.

This was done as per the Urban Areas and Cities Act 2011, when it was established that Keroka had a population of 107,922 people, far beyond the 50,000 threshold.

While signing the municipality approval documents, Nyaribo directed that the municipality have its headquarters at Rigoma.

Keroka Municipality is the second largest in the entire Gusii Nation (Kisii and Nyamira counties) - larger than even Nyamira town itself – which serves as the county headquarters.

The name Keroka emanated from the name of a shrub – emeroka - that surrounded the town.

Formerly Keroka Market Centre, Keroka lies along the busy Kisii-Sotik-Nairobi Highway and on the border of present-day Kisii-Nyamira counties.

The market emerged as an agricultural town but has witnessed steady growth over the years, attracting non-native traders.

Nyamira District, present-day Nyamira County, was hived off from Kisii District and established under Section 6 of the Districts and Provinces Act.

Keroka town was established as an Urban Council in 1979 courtesy of then-area Member of Parliament John Andrew Omanga.

It became a town council in 1997.

Some parties in the court dispute claim that the town council’s mayor during that time was from Ichuni ward, which is part of Kisii County, and jurisdiction was entirely with the former Kisii District, present-day Kisii County.

Kisii County argues that Ichuni Ward is demarcated by EBC as entirely falling within its territory.

IEBC's allocation of Keroka Farmers Union and Keroka Bus Park polling stations is the reason behind this argument.

The votes, they say, have all along been tallied for various administrative seats in Kisii County and that even the 2019 Census was conducted and tallied as part of Kisii County population.

At the advent of devolution when the conflicts started, former governors James Ongwae of Kisii and John Nyagarama (late) of Nyamira met with other leaders on May 21, 2012, and a resolution that there was no boundary dispute as conventional boundaries at the town were well known.

A joint working committee in Keroka town was to report to Mr Nyagarama to create one centre of power. Mr Nyagarama, in turn, was to share reports with Mr Ongwae.

The duo was to appoint a town administrator and a deputy administrator who would oversee the service delivery in the town, such as garbage collection, provision of water, and firefighting, among others.

On May 21, 2014, various leaders from the two counties met at Nairobi Club and formed a committee on the administration and management of Keroka town.

Accordingly, issues of Keroka were to be managed jointly by the two counties as a way to ensure a lasting solution.