• Only a stranger in Jerusalem would fain ignorance regarding what has been happening to the Nyanza Gulf since the collapse of the East African Community in 1978
• Rather than file the case as a rearguard reaction to what we are doing, Otieno should have attended the many meetings.
One of the major initiatives in Kisumu county aimed at boosting the economy of the region is the Lake Front Development Project.
This project envisages restructuring the city of Kisumu in such a way that it will now face the lake rather than turn its back on it. It also envisages the lakefront being a beehive of productive and economic activities in the Blue Economy.
There are many groups involved in this project being led by the county government. First and foremost are the current owners of small and medium businesses operating along the lakeshore. These are owners of small hotels and restaurants in Lwang'ni Beach, Tilapia Beach, Dinga Beach, Hippo Point and Kiboko Beach.
Other bigger players are what we choose to call the "big five" parastatals comprising the Kenya Pipeline Company, the Kenya Railways Corporation, the Kenya Martine Authority and the Kenya Airways.
The Nyanza Golf Club has, for a long time, been interested in ensuring it grows the game in tandem with those who benefit from the lake and the shore as economic assets. The club, therefore, leapt with joy when it was informed the county government was committed to reviving the economic life of the lake after decades of neglect and environmental decay.
Only a stranger in Jerusalem would fain ignorance regarding what has been happening to the Nyanza Gulf since the collapse of the East African Community in 1978.
Since Tanzania "owns" the largest part of the lake, she took the majority of the shops and vessels that were then owned by the East African Railways and Harbours. Kenya was left with about three or four ships, some of which soon decayed following disuse. Without the Community, maritime transport was drastically reduced, leading to the decay of most ports and harbours around the Nyanza Gulf.
To add insult to injury, the industries and farming activities around the gulf have, for over three decades, emitted affluence and pollutants into the lake, creating an environment for the growth of hyacinth. This weed has become a threat to aquatic life, not to mention its hindrance to fishing and maritime transport. The most urgent in our agenda, as far as reviving the lake and its economic activities, is dealing with the hyacinth menace.
The national government, the big five, the Nyanza Golf Club, the fishermen, the small and medium business persons, the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission and UN-Habitat and ourselves have all joined hands to revive the lake and economic activities therein. For that matter, we have a joint project called the Lake Front Development Initiative, with each party contributing in accordance with its interests and ability.
Recently, the President, the former Prime Minister (and AU High Representative for Infrastructure) and four government ministers joined in launching the project of dredging the lake and removing the hyacinth using the services of Mango Tree Company based in Uganda. The initial steps in launching this project entail setting up a station on the lake shore where the dredging and harvesting ships will be assembled and operations carried out. This entails reclaiming part of the lakeshore currently infested with weed and occupied by illegal farming.
The Nyanza Golf Club has also embarked on a project of safeguarding the lakeshore on the golfing side from further environmental degradation through the depositing of pollutants and the growth of opportunistic weeds which have expanded into what appears as wetland but is, for all intents and purposes, soggy and decaying carbon deposits. The removal of these deposits is necessary for the restoration of a healthy lake shore that will encourage aquatic life and not dangerous weeds. Such processes are usually carried out in all cities with waterfronts the world over.
I was, therefore, surprised when I read in the Standard on Wednesday, April 17, the filing of a case by a Michael Otieno Nyaguti of Magnum Environmental Network against Nyanza Golf Club "seeking to freeze the ongoing reclamation of Kisat beach for the expansion of the club's golf course to international standards."
Rather than file the case as a rearguard reaction to what we are doing, Otieno should have attended the many meetings we held at Kisat Beach with residents to raise his concerns. What is the point of having "public participation" when those like Otieno prefer to avoid such meetings only to take their concerns belatedly to court? Is it an issue of grandstanding or is it an attitude of anything initiated by "others excluding me" must be opposed?
Let Otieno know that the Kisat River is one of the biggest pollutants of the lake. The kind of affluence put into the river upstream by cultivators, garbage collectors and sundry is what ends up at the lake shore as manure for weeds and other parasites, further polluting the lake. Rather than reclaim and clean the lake shore, Otieno wants us to give in to his populist sentiments by maintaining the status quo. We shall not bow down to populism. We are determined to serve the people of Kisumu diligently and progressively.
While Otieno was in his mission of "naysaying" our Initiative, Allan Olingo of the Business Daily on the same day had an enlightening article discussing "collapsed railway, hyacinth conspire to sink Kisumu port." Rather than whine and complain about what has happened in the past, Olingo was informative and factual in his story, giving data on how maritime transport has declined over time and proposing what needs to be done to revive it.
Let me assure Olingo that notwithstanding the construction of the new port in Usori on the Kisian side, the old port and the dry dock are being revived to supplement the new one. With the impending arrival of the SGR in a matter of 2 years, both ports will have enough business to do throughout the year. Remember Rotterdam has over 20 ports on a 27 km oceanfront!
The AU High Representative for Infrastructure, Raila Odinga, this week organised a two-day conference at the Windsor Golf Hotel where specialists, scholars and technocrats discussed how to accelerate infrastructural development in Africa. One thing came out very clearly. And that is "finance is not a problem: good ideas and the courage to leap into the future is what we need."
As Raila pointed out, there are those who love lamenting about Africa's problems and hardly propose how we can overcome them and build for a brighter future. President Uhuru Kenyatta further added that, by putting our ideas together and working for a common improved future, we shall be much better off than engaging in grandstanding and rivalries for purely individual gain.
I would, therefore, like to appeal to the likes of Otieno that whatever suggestion he has for the improvement of the lakeshore he should put it before us. We welcome all good ideas. There is really no need going to court. We shall simply waste precious time. We cannot afford to do that. Time is not on our side.
As Mwalimu Julius Nyerere once said, we must run while they walk. If we go the Otieno route we shall simply be sitting down while they sprint. I plead with my brother: Come let us reason together.