The Kisumu County business community has intensified efforts to avoid a repeat of the violence that brought this lakeside city to a meltdown after the 2007 elections.
Over the past two months business leaders have been engaging security forces, the youth and other citizens at peace meetings aimed at safeguarding businesses and investor confidence ahead of the March 4 General Election.
With less than three weeks to go to the polls, the leaders are keen to avoid the violence that followed the disputed results of the 2007 General Election when numerous businesses were looted and burnt down.
Mr Karanja Kinyanjui, a prominent businessman in Kisumu town, told the Sunday Nation that he lost his hardware store, a hotel and his office to looters and arsonists during the violence but returned in 2008 to start afresh.
â€œI remember how members of my community were harshly targeted. I have never quantified the value of what I lost, but I came back and started afresh because my residential house was spared,â€ he said.
Mr Kinyanjui, 65, has since insured his businesses against political risk in addition to laying on more guards. guards. He said most of his friends have taken the same precautions.
Much has changed in Kisumu in the past five years. The real estate market grown tremendously, and rapid infrastructural development has meant increased confidence both for individual and institutional investors.
Major highways and feeder roads across theÂ Nyanza regionÂ have undergone multi-billion-shilling upgrades and expansion, better connecting the city to the region and beyond.
The upgrading of Kisumu Airport has encouraged investment in real estate in the region which has seen an unprecedented rise in the value of land and housing units.
According to the Kenya Economic Survey 2012, Kisumu ranks top among urban areas in creating the highest number of jobs in construction, banking and insurance.
Brand Kenya ranks Kisumu as third-best in the country in terms of infrastructure.
It is against this backdrop that the business community in Kisumu County is working to avert incidents that could erode the hard-earned gains.
The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce Kisumu chapter chairman Jerry Ochanda says they are confident the peace meeting will produce results as they are engaging the youth, especially in areas perceived to be most vulnerable to violence.
â€œWe just want to avoid any violence or the extortion of motorists that was seen in 2007,â€ he said.
Appeal to media
While appealing to the media to promote peace by avoiding sensationalised coverage of events, Mr Ochanda said stakeholders agree that the region has come a long way since 2008 and the gains made should be safeguarded.
Israel Agina, chairman of the Nyanza chapter of the Kenya Association of Manufactures, said efforts were being made to engage the youth to avoid electoral violence.
â€œTo have peace, you must target those involved in the violence, and that is why we are engaging the youth in our drives,â€ he said.
Boda boda operators, jua kali artisans, touts and matatu drivers are being targeted, he said, because recent history shows they are the main participants in violence.
With the disturbances that characterised ODM primaries in Nyanza region fresh in the minds of residents and the business community, business leaders are leaving nothing to chance.
Kisumu East District Commissioner Willy Cheboi said three GSU platoons had arrived in the region, and a police helicopter has been deployed for aerial surveillance.
In another development, the business community, provincial administration and private security agencies have agreed on a joint security engagement in which the Asian business community has provided 10 vehicles for additional police patrols.
The Champions of Peace Movement says there are 35 electoral hotspots in Kisumu County, going by the recent violence during party primaries as well as that in the last days of December 2007 and early 2008.
The movement that brings together the business community, security teams and the religious community says Kisumu Central constituency has the most hotspots; they include Kondele, Kachok, Bandani, Jua Kali, Manyatta, Nyalenda, Kawater and Buspark.
In Kisumu East the hotspots are Nyamasaria, Chigalali, Koyango, Mamboleo, Kasawili market and Carwash. Movementâ€™s official Elly Opondo said violent groups based at Koptit are notorious for blocking roads.
In Kisumu West constituency, Holo, Daraja Mbili, Otonglo, Kisian and Maseno are potential hotspots, while in Nyakach constituency Pap Onditi, Katito and Sondu are key hotspots.
In Nyando constituency, police are watching Ahero, Rabuor, Kabongo and Nam Bay.
In the new Seme constituency Kombewa and Kit Mikai are the hotspots.
In Muhoroni constituency, violence could occur in Kibigori, Kopeli, Masogo, Fort Teman and Awasi â€“ all areas hit by volence both in 2007/08 and during the ODM nominations.
According to the movement, these areas have been highlighted because of the susceptibility of cane cutters to political manipulation, the abundance of machetes and the constituencyâ€™s proximity to Rift Valley Province.
Chamber of Commerce executive officer Odhiambo Kitoto said traders are being counseled against panicking, but they are being encouraged to stock their shops as usual as well as preach peace to their employees.
â€œWe want to end this tag that Kisumu is a violent zone, and if bonding can begin at the workplace, much will be achieved,â€ Mr Kitoto said.
Hawkers and small-scale traders who display their wares in the open are being advised to reduce their stocks and save their money for eventualities because they are often the first victims of looting.
Mrs Jenifer Kere, a representative of small-scale traders in Kisumu County, said the organisation has cautioned traders against displaying their wares in the open before election results have been are formally released, and all is clear.-Nation