In my home village, there is a place called Bariguti. It is at the top of Manga ridge. From this vantage point one can see the sparkling lights of Kisumu at night. It is here where the colonial District Commissioner, Northcourt used to spend his time at night watching the glow of Port Florence (Kisumu) and often said “Very Good” which the Kisii people corrupted and named the place Bariguti. The scintillating beauty of Kisumu was unimaginable in Kisii which did not have electricity then.
Northcourt was later on killed by Otenyo (considered one of the Kisii heroes) in the struggle for internal self-rule but the Gusii people continued their pilgrimage to Bariguti as a source of inspiration. For the Kisii people, it is here where the sun set and as such there were many stories of this mysterious place. There was a myth that one never fights a Luo in the morning because they will be stronger before they get weaker as the sun moves towards their land. This has been the truism about the Luo to date in Kisii.
Transport businesses in the entire Kisii land was dominated by Kisumu businessmen. There were buses christened Lolwe, Tom Mboya and Nyanam. Siaya District which in our view was part of Kisumu, topped in both Kenya Primary Examination (KPE) and the East African Certificate Examinations (EACE). We attributed much of Siaya’s success to fish and indeed when we sat for KPE, we ate fish the night before.
My first visit to Kisumu was full of drama when my cousin who made clothes (direct translation) at Kicomi offered to take me there. We walked a distance of five kilometers to take a bus to Kisii town. It had rained heavily that night and road maintenance staff blocked the road for several hours to allow the road to dry up and avoid accidents. People patiently waited and everybody respected the law. When we started moving, in my view the trees were moving in a reverse order. It was my first ride in a vehicle. We took Lolwe from Kisii to Kisumu arriving late in the afternoon.
Kisumu Municipality was clean. There were no street vendors like you see today. There were no idlers and indeed if you did not have anything to do in the city, the police arrested you under the vagrancy law (IPPG removed the law from the statute). One of the most captivating episodes for me is when I saw the Police move around on horsebacks. This was the following morning after we had arrived. The shinning morning sun made the light bay and liver chestnut horses glitter.
I savoured the beauty and gracefulness of the horses. So when I returned to Kisii, I jumped on a small bull hoping to have a ride similar to the one I saw in Kisumu. Big mistake. The bull was in shock and as I held on to its ears, it jumped like it was in a rodeo. I had no option but to hold on tight. It ran through a thicket that disrupted its view forcing it to momentarily try to find its balance. I jumped out but not without injuries. I leant a lesson.
It was therefore a great honour and privilege for me when Governor Jack Ranguma invited me last week to meet with him and other governors from the lake basin to share views on what needs to be done to improve the region’s economic fortunes. For a start, the formation of a regional economic block is a positive move. Kisumu and its environs lays below the Nandi Hills and Kisii Highlands and is endowed with rich water resources. It can be the California of Kenya.
The California Aqueduct is a system of canals, tunnels, and pipelines that conveys water collected from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and valleys of Northern and Central California to Southern California. The water is used to irrigate millions of hectares ensuring food security for Americans. Imagine then what we can do with Ahero rice fields and even more land for other crops. Kiarie who with Sammy Onyango and Rosemary Okello were part of the team, tells me that it is possible to take this water to Mau Summit and be able to irrigate millions of acres and make our country food secure.
With water there is fish and indeed we have the Victoria Tilapia that is as unique as the Scandinavian Salmon. Whilst Salmon is available in virtually all important hotels globally, tilapia is absent even within our borders. We have not developed the supply chain. We need to develop a fish infrastructure, cold rooms, auction markets that will remove the risks from the poor fishermen. According to David Ndii, a two billion shilling financial stimulus into the fishing industry has injected more than 60 billion shilling contribution into GDP. It has not only created wealth, but also created a significant number of jobs.
We need to finance at least five PhDs at Maseno University to develop a fish value chain that will exploit the natural resources in Lake Victoria. The waters of Victoria can be a great source of tourism with water sports and sport fishing. These activities will give rise to other industries like the production of fish hooks, repair of jet skis and ship building. The opportunities are many.
Water is the great resource of the lake region. We should never talk of resource curse in water, for 80 percent of infant mortality happens around the lake region and virtually all of the deaths are from water borne diseases. If we eliminated infant mortality here, Kenya’s Human Development Index will jump up by 20 to 30 percent. Like mighty warrior Luanda Magere of Sidho clan in Kano we must fight poverty, disease and ignorance.
By Bitange Ndemo