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January 20, 2019

Restoring Kisumu old glory as East African city

An aerial view of Kisumu town/MAURICE ALAL
An aerial view of Kisumu town/MAURICE ALAL
On Thursday, I gave my first State of the County address to the county assembly and the people of Kisumu as the law requires.

My original intention was to speak of the good, the bad and the ugly regarding my experience in governing Kisumu county for the last one year so as to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. While compiling my address, however, I realised that while the ordinary citizen of Kisumu knows and appreciates the good, the "chattering crowds" that inhabit the formal and informal media have always dished out large dishes of the bad and the ugly in devolution that they really needed to join the ordinary wananchi in celebrating some of the good news. This, for sure, is the experience of practitioners of devolution in every county.

 Truth be told. Devolution has made, and is making, major differences in people's lives in the counties that the central government never succeeded in doing for decades. I would credit the central government, during the first 20 years of Independence, with expanding the frontiers of education to many Kenyans, bringing them into the central matrix of national development. But whatever gains were made in agriculture, health, housing, industry and infrastructure were then grossly undermined by poor policies, which led to economic stagnation, growing inequalities, staggering marginalisation and the "bantustanization" of living spaces.

The CDF, when it was initiated in 2003 under the reformist Narc government, given its resource base and legal structure, rightfully only concentrated on health and education, and in many cases, made appreciable progress. It is now upon devolution to take over where CDF, now NGCDF, left and expand development at the grassroots to address some of the shortcomings of the national government since Independence. This, however, does not absolve the national government from fulfilling its Schedule Four functions, even better than it has done before.

 Devolution, like its precursor the CDF, has been shortchanged in terms of resources. In Kisumu, we receive no more than Sh9 billion to undertake development in agriculture, health, environment, water, roads, energy, business entrepreneurship, sports, culture, early childhood education, animal husbandry, fisheries, housing and urban development. We have devoted Sh3 billion to health alone, and from this, we give salaries worth Sh2 billion. That is two thirds to salaries and one third to development to finance, in particular, Universal Health Coverage. In early childhood education, we most likely spend almost 90 per cent of our resources on salaries. But that is not all: We are unfortunate that we inherited a huge workforce from the national government since Kisumu was a provincial headquarter. Truth be told, this work force is a burden we have been forced to carry at the risk of depleting our resources very unproductively. And nobody cares so far to compensate us for this unwelcome burden from the national government.

 We have a population of 1.2 million people. During the day, however, the city of Kisumu receives an extra 100,000- 200,000 people on transit or participating in commercial activities beneficial to our economy, while also demanding a lot on our own expenditure in social amenities. Kisumu city, and the services it provides, goes beyond the confines of our county to impact on the lives of the people of the lake region, Kenya and East Africa. We are committed to developing Kisumu as an outward looking metropolitan center.

 It is with that in mind, and the urgency it requires, that I put premium on completing the Kisumu Urban Project during my first year in office. The project is financed by a Sh4.5 billion five-year grant from the Kenya government based on a loan from the French government to finance infrastructure, social amenities, schools and markets beginning 2012. When I took office, the grant was expiring when only 20 per cent of the works has been completed. We were obliged to request for a two-year expansion so as to complete the projects. We are now at almost 80 per cent completion but need more time to do the markets, the most socially important aspect of this grant.

 We welcome the location of the multi-billion shillings Kenya Breweries Ltd plant in Kisumu, with its promising positive impact on agribusiness. Sorghum farmers have responded well to supply the needed raw materials to the breweries, and we hope stable and attractive farm gate prices will be guaranteed for the farmers into the future. We have, in like manner, initiated dairy production, which will receive inputs of sorghum stocks as animal feeds. We can no longer rely on sugarcane as a mono crop: Diversification into food production for domestic consumption and export is necessary, hence the need to look into macadamia, pineapple, mangoes and avocado production given their insatiable demand in the international markets.

 In that regard, we must take seriously the development of Kisumu as a international communications port for land, air and water transport. Kisumu, as an international airport, must now fully claim its rightful place by having proper cargo handling facilities, fueling depots and airline hangers for services and repairs. Given what has been happening for the last one year, passenger and goods transport is likely to increase once the SGR reaches the county. That message also goes to the Kenya Ports Authority and Kenya Pipeline Company, which will be a boost to maritime transport and trade in Lake Victoria, thereby restoring the old glory of Kisumu as a truly East African city.

 All this simply means that many forward and backward linkages, known in common garden economics, will follow. Demand for food will grow, so will demands for social amenities such as schools, housing, health services and entertainment. Local entrepreneurship needs to kick in. I congratulate all those members of the Kisumu business community who are putting up good housing, health faculties, private schools and hotels. We in government will insist on good standards, quality work, respect for the rule of law and fastidiousness in adhering to regulations.

 We are currently undertaking the geophysical and geo-mapping of Kisumu city with the view of zoning it, establishing proper physical addresses and building infrastructure that will stand the test of time. We have the ambition of building a green city in a blue economy. Hence our next venture of having a conference-cum-consultation here in Kisumu next month on "Building a Blue Economy for Socioeconomic Prosperity in Kisumu County" to which all Kenyans are invited. All this we do under the conviction that we need to get our concepts rights, our ideas clear and our assumptions indubitable before we embark on any project. But all this will come to naught if we do not slay the dragon of corruption by, first and foremost, establishing systems and regulations that work and are respected, even before those caught with their hands in the till are made to face the law.

We shall obviously continue learning from the experiences of other devolved systems of government, here in Kenya and elsewhere. We value our collaboration with the counties of Makueni and Kitui in public participation and Universal Health Care. The state of Gujarati in India gives us plenty to learn from in small-scale industries and value addition. We are evolving our relationship with the Italian port city of Genoa in diverse ways. Our plate is full, and we like it that way. We simply have a lot of work to do: Let's do it.


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