Homa Bay:How Kenya’s first planned town failed

Homa Bay town

Homa Bay town

This is the sad story of Homa Bay, and it is also the story of many other towns. But from it, perhaps our new governors can learn something as they begin to reclassify towns and urban centres. The planners of Konza City can also learn from it.

For starters, Homa Bay, and not the proposed Konza City, was the first town to have a master plan before construction and development began. It was something akin to Konza City where a comprehensive master plan was laid out for a township that was to be.

The 1960 Homa Bay plan was actually the basis of the new town and if you look at the records, one of the first problems that emerged by 1966 was that Homa Bay had not been granted township status and there was nobody to execute those plans.

That was mistake number one. The problem was that the political system, at the national level, was so rigid and the excuse, nay reason, was that Homa Bay did not have adequate population and “resources” to be able to run services.

Area MP Ngala Abok tried his best in Parliament, seeking to know what population was required and was informed by minister for local government that it should have a population whose Graduated Personal Tax would enable the town to run its own offices, provide water, and street lighting.

The matter was thrown to the residents to make a request to the then South Nyanza County Council for the elevation of the emerging town to township status. Call these delaying tactics.

Then came the politics. Russia had agreed to build a cotton textile factory in Homa Bay to kick-start industrial development and this was to be built in 1966.

But this was the year that Jaramogi Oginga Odinga decamped from Kanu to Kenya People’s Union (KPU) and Homa Bay became the first victim.

The textile factory was abandoned with the excuse: “The market survey for the textile products to be manufactures in connection with this project has revealed that the capacity already licensed by East African Industrial Licensing Council is just about adequate for the period up to 1970…the project will not be viable at this time.”

In 1971, Minister for Local Government, Dr Gikonyo Kiano was under pressure in Parliament to have Homa Bay elevated to something.

“If the upgrading of Homa Bay will inspire some spirit of growth in that town we shall consider it”. But there was no “machinery”, as Dr Kiano put it, on how to classify emerging towns such as Homa Bay.

“It is the absence of this machinery that has made it difficult for us to know how to classify which town in what category.”

As a result, Homa Bay grew along the dark path. There was a district commissioner there, but he could not chair a development committee because there was none and the “town” was not recognised despite having a very nice town plan. In essence, Homa Bay was a town in theory.

It was not until 1974 that it was declared an urban centre, but by this time a lot of damage had been done. The town did not have land for expansion and this problem persisted in 1984 when it became a township and in the late eighties when it became a municipality. Today, Homa Bay does not have land for industrialisation and controls only 20 per cent of what is known as Homa Bay.

It cannot rely either on the 1960 plan nor the 1974 master plan. These are archaic. It was a town left to fail. With the governors supposed to elevate some of these former municipalities to towns and reclassify them they cannot afford to make the mistakes of Homa Bay, which should serve as a big lesson for it combines both local and national politics.

-Business daily



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