As the population of Kisii county rises, the county government has read the signals right and is moving to expand its towns to cope with the explosion. Kisii town, the county’s headquarters and biggest town, is an old colonial town located in South Nyanza. Kisii is now one of the commercial hubs in Western Kenya and has the second largest open air market, Daraja Mbili, after Kibuye market in Kisumu county.
The town, which connects to Migori, Homabay, Kisumu, Bomet, Migori and Narok counties, boasts several banks, supermarkets and university campuses. Its high population is a resource that can spur economic growth. The Executive Member of the County (ECM)in charge of Lands, Physical Planning, Housing and Urban Development, Moses Onderi, says the town’s population has grown from 83,000 to 170,000 without corresponding infrastructural and social amenities.
The town’s 1971 physical development plan which covered 29 square kilometres under the defunct Kisii Municipal Council ( KMC) is now obsolete. As a result, the county has embraced Integrated Strategic Urban Development Digitised Plan in an ambitious programme to provide better infrastructure. In the plan set to be approved and publicised, the town will cover 70 square kilometres, swallowing peri-urban areas like Nyatieko, Nyakoe, Suneka, Kegati, Menyinkwa and Kiogoro.
“The expansion will enable investors to venture into real estate to boost the county’s economy,” says Onderi. Quoting the 1999 Census, he says Kisii town had 58,186 people within 29sqkm. This population has since grown, with an estimated 400,000 people flocking to Daraja mbili market on Mondays and Thursdays, which are market days. He says the new digitised plan identifies existing buildings on road and riparian reserves, which have been zoned to cater for recreational parks, residential, industrial and commercial facilities.
Given the influx of investors and civil servants from central government, Onderi says demand for housing is increasing and challenges investors to get into real estates. “We have civil servants from both national and county governments here. They need more houses to accommodate them,” says Onderi. Land in Kisii county is shrinking at a high rate and prices are rising, especially within central business district and its environs. “The cost of a plot land measuring 50 by 100 feet within the CBD is Sh50 million while similar sizes at Mwembe and Jogoo estates along Kisii- Kilgoris and Kisii Nyamira highways respectively go for Sh2m and Sh5m,” says Onderi.
Rent in the town centre is double that of Kasarani estate in Nairobi county. While a two-roomed house in Kasarani costs Sh8,000, a similar one in Kisii goes for Sh15,000 per month. “A two-bed roomed furnished and equipped house within Kisii town centre costs between Sh20,000 to Sh25,000,” says Onderi. The executive member for land says Kisii residents value land like gold, stressing that those staying along highways have hiked the prices due to rising demand and stiff competition by investors who want to capitalise on the county’s growing businesses.
Kisii County governor, James Ongwae, says more than half of the money in circulation in Nyanza region circulates in Gusii community, which is why financial institutions have pitched tent in the area to get a share of the funds. He argues the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) to open a branch in Kisii to handle the huge cash transactions and reduce the cost of ferrying money by commercial banks from the CBK branch in Kisumu.
The Governor advices investors in real estate and office blocks within the CBD to build storeyed buildings, which are friendly to disabled citizens to accommodate business people. “My county government provides a conducive environment for private developers by identifying genuine land for investment to avoid conflicts between land sellers and investors,” he says. The ECM challenges investors to consult the county government’s offices before they venture into buying and developing land, saying some could be sold grabbed public land and lose their hard-earned money.
The county government is meanwhile managing houses acquired from the defunct local authorities and is negotiating with the National Housing Corporation to take over homes under the corporation’s management. “We want consolidate various housing units under the Ministry of Housing for easy management,” says the Governor.
To hasten investment and development in Kisii town and its nine sub-counties, the ECM says the county government has awarded road contractors tenders to construct roads and open up rural areas to attract housing developers. Last month, Governor Ongwae commissioned four machines to be used in constructing roads within Kisii town and in the sub-counties to improve infrastructure and foster development. The Governor said contractors could hire the machines to generate revenue for the county after the modalities of policies and legal frameworks between the central government and the county government are finalised.
A survey by The People established that Kisii town is growing both linearly and spatially, with investors building storey houses along the highways and hill tops, especially Nyanchwa and Milimani estates. Recently, aging land owners who had constructed temporary structures on their plots are selling them to investors who erect storeyed buildings while the parents relocate to rural areas to buy cheaper land and settle.
Conservative land owners, aged over 60, fear securing bank loans for housing developments over high interest rates charged by the financial institutions and the risk of being deprived of their properties once they default. “Some old men and women with prime land harbour the notion that banks will auction their properties and impoverish them,” says John Ongeri, a Kisii town dweller.
Ongeri challenges the ageing parents to bequeath part of the land to younger family members to secure loans and develop them, saying it would be too expensive for the youth to buy land in urban areas and develop it. Banks, notes Ongeri, are many and have friendly terms and conditions, which they can be used to build rental houses. Rent collections can then be used to make loan repayments. Meanwhile, estate developers on hilly locations are having a challenge of lack of clean piped water, with some being forced to drill boreholes, to buy water from vendors or harvest rain water.
Some rich businessmen buy land in rural areas, build residential houses, which they rent out to civil servants while others convert them into hotels. Poor peasants near higher educational learning institutions have uprooted tea and replaced it with real estate to accommodate the swelling number of colleges and university students in the county. Some of the investors, especially those preferring Nyanchwa estate, are buying the hilly parts of the estate. The county government is meanwhile opening roads within the wards to enhance access to the residential buildings.
County set to launch integrated plan
Kisii County’s Integrated Strategic Urban Development Plan, set to be launched and availed to the public, will change the face of Kisii town, foster and hasten development. The County’s Executive member in charge Lands, Physical Planning, Housing and urban Development, Moses Onderi, says the plan has been digitised and shows public land and structures coupled with an action plan for the townships of Suneka, Mwembe and Nyakoe suburbs.
Onderi says the plan shows rivers, road reserves , public land, government institutions and former properties of the defunct local authorities. “The plan, to be implemented gradually, indicates land set aside for hotels, educational centres, government forests, trust lands, wetlands, rivers, roads, pathways and mountains,” he says. In the plan, the county’s urban areas have been zoned for industrial parks, recreational facilities residential, schools, colleges, universities, market centres, land for waste management, cemetery, parking for motorbikes, taxis and matatu operators.
Onderi noted that the county’s 1971 physical development plan is obsolete, adding that the implementation of the new plan would last for 30 years before it is reviewed. “It is envisaged Kisii town will be expanded from the current 29 square kilometres to cover 70 square kilometres to serve the increasing population and avail quality and efficient services to locals. Quoting the 2009 census, Onderi noted that Kisii county covers 1,317 square kilometres, has a population of 1.15 million people with a density of 874 people per square kilometre.
During the first anniversary for devolution, Kisii County governor, James Ongwae said some illegal structures had been built on public land, adding that the County government will be negotiating with private developers for an amicable solution. Speaking at Gusii stadium, Ongwae said it is necessary for the county government to plan for the county’s growing population, now estimated at 1.3 million people. He urged investors who have encroached road reserves to move away to pave way for expansion of the road to enhance accessibility and hence facilitate growth.