OPINION: Kisumu is a city under siege
I returned to Kenya in 2002 after 18 years of exile in Sweden. My dream to join politics was thwarted when the National Intelligence Service office advised against it, but would instead allow me to register an NGO to support orphans and needy children.
In 2003 I registered Kisumu Youth Olympic Centre, which began its operations in November 2004. Since then I have dedicated my time and efforts in complementing the government’s work at the grassroots by supporting orphans and needy children in education, welfare and sports.
From my experience during the 2007-08 post-election violence, where I witnessed firsthand political violence, I applied for funds from development partners in Sweden to enable us incorporate marginalised youths in our programme.
In 2010 the work with the youths began with baseline survey done by Maseno University’s Departments of Psychology and Social Anthropology.
The majority of youths in Kisumu are under/unemployed. As a result, a considerable number are engaged in drug and substance abuse, crime and prostitution, among others.
The situation creates a feeling of dejection, marginalisation and low self-esteem.
In our work with orphans, needy children and the youth I came into direct contact with the poorest members of the community. The confronting situation made me look around for opportunities the community has for wealth creation:
Kisumu lies on the shores of Lake Victoria: the world’s second largest freshwater lake and Africa’s largest. For trade the lake brings the community closer to Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo. Modern fish farming can be done extensively in the lake, creating the potential for the fish industry. The lake is, therefore, a resource worth billions in US dollars. Looking at it in its current situation the lake lies barren, unexploited, a jungle.
The lake is, therefore, a resource worth billions in US dollars. Looking at it in its current situation the lake lies barren, unexploited, a jungle.
The city itself is a market but whatever is trading in it, is imported from neighbouring counties/regions. Among others, maize and eggs (Uganda), milk (Rift Valley and Western), onions and tomatoes (Narok), beans and wheat flour (Tanzania), Irish potatoes, cabbages and fish (Central), and oranges (Ukambani).
The city is surrounded by arable land and residents can engage in greenhouse farming.
Then there is the Kisumu ‘International’ Airport. The local residents feel marginalised from its operations. Despite being an international airport no cargo plane has ever landed on it due to lack of trading connections with any part of the world.
Kisumu has also potential for the textile industry. Though it is claimed the industry collapsed due to political interference by the national government, no efforts have been made to revive the industry, even when the local political elites were in power.
Despite having abundant resources and potential, Kisumu heavily depends on imported goods for consumption and exports virtually nothing.
Whereas local residents are wallowing in abject poverty, political representation in Luo Nyanza is filled with brothers and sisters who have no knowledge of their role. From my political and economic indoctrination, the role of a political leader is, first and foremost, to identify available resources both natural and human. Thereafter the task is to mobilise and then organise residents around the identified resources for exploitation and wealth creation, hence development. This will eventually lead to the eradication of poverty and improved living standard of the citizenry.
The dominant political party in the region, ODM, never advocates development. In fact any member/leader who has ever come up with idea(s) of empowering the people or is independent-minded has ended up being crushed or suppressed. Raphael Tuju, Olago Aluoch, Dalmas Otieno, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o and James Orengo are some of the examples. Nyong’o and Orengo fall in the latter category.
In Luo Nyanza region those who end up in political positions are not elected by the voters. They are selected by the party top organ after coughing up millions of shillings in a game of highest bidder gets the party certificate for political representation. In this arrangement, the electorate is forced to vote for the top bidders and loyalists in the six-piece euphoria.
Once selected the leader must toe the party line: First priority is to serve the party leader. Second is to serve the party itself. Third and last is to serve the individualâ€™s personal interest. Serving the voter is, therefore, non-existent in ODM’s list of priorities. Even the party’s euphoric campaign slogans: “Tialala”, ”
Even the party’s euphoric campaign slogans: “Tialala”, “Tibim” are destructive war cries rather than rallying calls for freedom, peace and development. Due to poverty, ignorance and holistic marginalisation of the youth and women, however, the party has fanatical following among the citizenry, seeing as beggars are not choosers.
Since my return from exile, I have lived in Kisumu for over 13 years and spent working with children and youth. As the election year was approaching it dawned on me that Kisumu City, the centre of Kisumu Central constituency â€“ is under siege. With no police protection, property in the city can be looted clean within two days. After which the city will be burnt down.
With no police protection, property in the city can be looted clean within two days. After which the city will be burnt down.
With decades in opposition â€“ and since empowerment of the residence in economic development has never been an ODM priority â€“ there is massive under/unemployment among the youth. The majority of investment is owned by people from outside the region. During electioneering periods, businesses are closed and business owners emigrate from Kisumu. Luo political and economic elites have also emigrated to Nairobi and other cities.
In times of demonstrations, riots or large campaign rallies businesses are closed and police are deployed. In other words Kisumu City is under siege as the residents and the middle class, in particular, are held hostage by the under/unemployed, marginalised youth. I had to step out, I said to myself, to join the ruling party, the custodian of our taxes, to be able to bring back some capital from our taxes.
With resources identified, the capital will be shared among the business entrepreneurs to expand their business and create employment. We have to put our youths into productive employment and away from destruction and exploitation by the political elites.
From my childhood, school, military, prison and exile, my life dream has been to be party to development initiatives for my country. This seems to be the drive behind risking my life while serving in the military in the 80s and the drive behind leaving my family in wealthy Sweden, where I was in exile, to return to Kenya. I am fully aware that development of a country is tagged with how its taxes are spent. When I decided to join active politics in 2016, therefore, I joined the ruling Jubilee Party for the following reasons:
The leadership of the party is focused and peoples centred
The party has developed as its first priority.
It is the party that is the custodian of our taxes.
Party membership is free.
Through the party’s initiative, massive upgrading of the infrastructure is carried on from the previous coalition (nusu mkate) regime.
Added to the above are recent initiatives taken by the party leadership to bring to Kisumu the SGR,
And last but not least, the Breweries investments.
When successfully implemented these investments will bring hundreds of thousands of jobs to the local people.
This will, however, only happen if the local residents are mobilised and organised. With resources identified, as listed above, I decided to join politics and be party to the mobilisation and organisation of our people around the resources for development and rise of living standard, so that our people can live with dignity.
I, therefore, compiled my CV and presented it to the regional commissioner who referred me to the county commissioner. After a short briefing with the latter, he sent me off with words: â€œI will contact youâ€, which he never did. My effort to seek advice from the government offices was based on the fact that I still feared being blocked out from active political participation by the government, as it happened prior to the 2007 election when some friends and I made efforts to register a political party: Chama Cha Mapinduzi-Kenya. I was to be the party’ss secretary general. The Registrar of Political Parties declined to approve our application. I had to check with them first before approaching the political party.
With no words from the CC’s office, I gathered all the required documents and submitted them to the Jubilee Party’s temporary office in Kisumu. From here my documents were forwarded to the party headquarters in Nairobi. The party eventually nominated me to vie for the post of MP for Kisumu Central constituency. Being a single aspirant, I was eventually cleared by the IEBC and would contest the position on August 8 against six other candidates.
During my campaign I spent approximately Sh3 million, excluding the Sh400,000 that I was given in support by the party. Among the 90,000 plus votes cast in Kisumu Central I received 1,436 (1.58 per cent). After the election results were announced, I consoled myself by reading Mathew chapter 13:1-18:…Behold, a sower went forth to sow and when he sowed some seeds fell by the waysideâ€¦some fell upon stony placess and some fell among thorns…but others fell into good ground and brought forth fruits
As I sit to conclude this article, Kisumu is under siege. For some decades now, youths have trooped to the city from around Nyanza and Western to find jobs that have never been created. With time these unemployed youths have formed the majority of the town residents. Due to marginalisation, these youths have turned into powder kegs (war brigades), awaiting to be ignited.
The slightest provocation will see the powder kegs fill the streets and light bonfires to block traffic, vandalise and loot any business of perceived enemies. At the sign of any unrest, businesses, both private and public, and even schools are closed.
If it ever comes to a drawn-out unrest, those from outside the region will simply leave and soon there will be no transport in to or out of the city, hence no food supply. Out of hunger, anger and frustration the youth will turn their attention to the middle class (the majority of whom are fellow Luos) who will become target for harassment, theft and even robbery. Without protection from the National Police Service, Kisumu residents are held hostage by the marginalised youth.
The situation calls for an urgent attention from civil society, the devolved and national governments as well as the international community. We, the local elites (religious, economic and political) should be on the frontline in rescuing Kisumu. This begs the question: If we do not take initiative and lead the way to rescue Kisumu, who will do it for us?
I already have 1,436 residents/voters in Kisumu who are ready to join the rescue for Kisumu.