Why push for city status remains a pipe dream

Governor Wycliffe Oparanya announced the intention to have the town upgraded to city status by the end of next year

In Summary

• The Kakamega town management board exists only in name and lacks the capacity to be semi-autonomous

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya
Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya
Image: Samuel Simiti

Gazetted in 1920 as the Western provincial headquarters by the colonial government, Kakamega town has been growing over the years. It is now serving as the county headquarters.

During last year’s Mashujaa Day celebration at Bukhungu Stadium, Governor Wycliffe Oparanya announced that his government was committed to seeing the town upgraded to city status by the end of next year as it celebrates its centenary.

This could, however, remain a pipe dream as its current status would require a huge investment to turn it into a city. Such an amount is well beyond the reach of the county government, whose annual budget stands at Sh14 billion.

The Star learnt that the Kakamega town management board, chaired by former Shinyalu MP Daniel Khamasi, only exists in name. It lacks the capacity to plan the town, as no single function has been transferred from the various departments for it to plan, and it has no budgetary allocation.

The board lacks key staff, which is critical to the planning of the town, let alone a city. Lurambi subcounty public health officer Robert Malala was brought on board a month ago.

A member of who declined to be named for fear of reprisal said it lacks a substantive engineer, a physical planner, an environmentalist and a physical planner capable of carrying out social impact surveys that can inform its expansion without affecting residents.

“The board is micromanaged by the executive, and this explains the reluctance to transfer functions to it. Though the Cities and Urban Areas Act is explicit that members of the board should serve for five years, the governor is giving us contracts of between six and 12 months,” the member said.

“The defunct municipal had a substantive engineer, physical planner and public health officer besides other staff before the inception of devolution. Oparanya disbanded the structures he inherited, moved the staff to various subcounties and shifted the functions they handled to various departments under county executives.

Matianyi admits that members of the town board was picked on interim basis because it lacks the capacity to become semi-autonomous as required by law.

“Because the town was not gazetted as a municipality, the members of the board were picked into a town management committee and not a board. It is now that it is being transformed into a board,” he said.

“The dream of Kakamega becoming a city is achievable because we have spatial plans approved by the county assembly. There are some capital projects like sewer that require immediate implementation but may take longer because they involve huge sums of money,” Matianyi said.

The spatial plans have mapped out high-end and middle-end settlement areas and other social infrastructures. They also extend the municipality from 49-123sq km and bring into the municipality Shisiru, Lubao, Shinyalu and Khayega satellite towns.

The plans indicate the sewer plant should be constructed at Shisiru, 5km out of town. But Matianyi says the government does not have immediate plans to construct the plant.

“The plans are there but we do not have a budget for it. If we in the Urban department get funds, we’ll do it, and if the water company finds money first, it will do it,” he said.

It has emerged that Kakamega town was gazetted as a municipality in May last year, after 47 years of existence.

Kakamega is estimated to have a population of 100,000 people, but the Cities and Urban Act requires that a town has a population of at least 250,000 to become a city.

Edited by T Jalio