LOOMING DANGER

Deadly Webuye bridge built in 1982 still serving residents

It connect Bungoma and Webuye counties, and measures 82 metres long

In Summary
  • Karani and Wilson Sirengo from Kabras in Lugari constituency, Kakamega county were the founders of the Kumufunje bridge.
  • There are six divers that he has employed who are on stand-by to intervene in case anyone falls into the river.
Jeremiah Shem, 58, crosses the Kumufunje bridge.
Jeremiah Shem, 58, crosses the Kumufunje bridge.
Image: TONY WAFULA
Jeremiah Shem.
Jeremiah Shem.
Image: TONY WAFULA
Kumufunje bridge.
Kumufunje bridge.
Image: TONY WAFULA

Forty years ago when George Wanyama Karani constructed a bridge to help residents of Maraka road cross Nzoia River, he did not imagine it would last that long.

Karani, 70, from Lufwidiri village, Maraka ward in Bungoma county says that he constructed the bridge on February 16, 1982 and gave it the name ‘ kumufunje’ loosely translated to 'log bridge' in Bukusu.

The bridge, which is 82 metres, connects two counties: Bungoma and Kakamega.

River Nzoia flows from Cherangany hills in Trans Nzoia county and drains in Port Victoria in Busia county.

Karani and Wilson Sirengo from Kabras in Lugari constituency, Kakamega county were the founders of the Kumufunje bridge but unfortunately Sirengo died in 2010.

The Kumufunje bridge which is made up of locally-acquired materials that include barbed wire, logs and ladders on both sides serve residents from both counties who rely on the bridge to cross to Webuye market.

Karani said that some of the materials that he used in the construction of the bridge were bought at Nzoia Sugar Company.

The bridge connects Lugari constituency in Kakamega and Webuye West in Bungoma county.

Karani said that for every bridge user there is a fee charged in order to get permission to cross to the opposite side of the river.

He added that learners who use the bridge to get to schools that are across the Nzoia River their are required to pay Sh3,000 per year through their parents. Those who pass once are required to pay Sh10.

“Every day I wake up early in the morning to check if there are any wires that are loose to ensure learners pass in the morning on their to school,” he said, adding that the bridge has four strong wires supporting the bridge.

There are six divers that he has employed who are on stand-by to intervene in case anyone falls into the river. He pays them Sh200 per day.

“Since I constructed this bridge no deaths have occurred here, given that I have six boys who are very good swimmers whose work is to rescue anybody that falls from the bridge, something that is a rare case,” he said.

"Those who chicken out while crossing the bridge and end up screaming are required to bring a sheep that is then slaughtered and eaten at the banks of the river to cleanse and appease the spirit of those who perished in the river,” Karani said.

He added he fully depends on the money he collects daily from the bridge to feed his family and pay the divers for the services they provide.

As such, he would not want a permanent bridge to be constructed as it would strip them of their daily income.

“Because this bridge has served us this long period there is no need of constructing a permanent bridge as it has given employment opportunities for some youths,” he said.

Before the construction of the Kumufunje bridge, people used to swim across the river which back then was largely infested with crocodiles that caused many deaths.

In cases where one wants to take animals (cows, goats) across the river, a long rope is tied on the animal’s neck and one of the swimmers swims across with it.

“Every December, I receive tourists from different parts of the world who come here to promote me financially,” Karani said.

Jeremiah Shem, 58, from Lugari constituency, and regular user of the bridge, said that they have been using the bridge for more than 40 years but it’s very risky.

He is appealing to local leaders to help residents obtain a standard bridge.

Nicholas Wanyama, a driver, told the Star that he has worked at the place for more than 10 years, adding that they ensure that the bridge is safe for users.

(edited by Amol Awuor)

Nicholas Wanyama, diver, leads journalists in crossing the bridge.
Nicholas Wanyama, diver, leads journalists in crossing the bridge.
Image: TONY WAFULA
George Wanyama Karani, 70, the founder of Kumufunje bridge.
George Wanyama Karani, 70, the founder of Kumufunje bridge.
Image: TONY WAFULA
Kumufunje bridge divers.
Kumufunje bridge divers.
Image: TONY WAFULA
A regular Kumufunje bridge user.
A regular Kumufunje bridge user.
Image: TONY WAFULA