The charred ghost houses of Kisumu

An abandoned building that housed Punjani Hardware and Copy Cat ltd that has since been abandoned after the 2008 post elections violence that left the facility looted and burnt in this photo taken on 22-01-2014.

An abandoned building that housed Punjani Hardware and Copy Cat ltd that has since been abandoned after the 2008 post elections violence that left the facility looted and burnt in this photo taken on 22-01-2014.

It has been six years since Kenya witnessed the worst post-election chaos in its history, which claimed 1,133 lives and led to the displacement of over 650,000 people.

While it is everybody’s wish that memories of the dark days are forgotten, the lake side town of Kisumu is punctuated with ruins that are a constant reminder of the impact the violence had on businesses.

One of them is the Classic Guest House.

Located near Lake Victoria’s Dunga Beach, the guest house stands in desolation since demonstrators descended on it and looted everything from utensils to roofing materials.

Its wasting walls are gradually being subdued by plants which have found a home in a place that was once the first choice of many accommodation seekers.

The asking price for the land on which it sits is Sh12 million.

Hope is fast fading on chances of the building being rehabilitated; its owners say they are not motivated enough to apply for a loan to rebuild it.

Not far away, a five-storey building that used to be the Gulfstream Hotel has remained deserted since 2007. It is located along the Awuor-Otieno road, 1.2 kilometres from the Kisumu Governor’s office.

From far, the brown wall patterns somehow manage to present a neat facade. But the closer one gets, the more one notices its shattered window-panes, a missing main door whose place is held by a hotchpotch of materials, a partially burnt roof and a litany of eyesores.

“It is at this place that some politicians would meet to strategise in the run-up to the 2007 polls. On a good day you couldn’t get a space at its parking bay,” said Mr Evans Omollo, a bicycle repairer who has worked in his stall opposite the building since 2006.

At the Milimani estate where the building is located, a four-storey restaurant with facilities almost similar to that of the former Gulfstream Hotel is on sale for Sh25 million.

Punjani Electricals

Exactly 1.9 kilometres from the deserted hotel, another ramshackle building stands along the Oginga Odinga Street. It is a one-storey building that used to house Punjani Electricals and the Copy Cat offices.

The building’s once white walls are now stained with smoke and charred by harsh weather. It is locked to keep the homeless at bay. Four or five trees have found the building’s upper floor conducive and seem to be doing quite well there.

Standing at a place where renting a 600 sq. feet office space averages at Sh120,000 a month, the building is at the heart of the Kisumu central business district, and its positioning cannot fail to catch any observant visitor’s eye.

A five-minute drive away, the building that formerly housed Shitul Enterprises along the Odera Street is another grim record of how bad things were when ODM disputed the outcome of 2007 presidential election, sparking the violence, when President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner against ODM’s Raila Odinga.

The three buildings are at Kisumu’s Industrial Area where a 400 sq feet rental office space has an asking price of Sh40,000 a month.
So, why haven’t the buildings been rebuilt after six years?

Failure by insurers to pay up is the answer many former owners say.

Mr Dahya Mehindi, the managing director of Punjani Electricals, said his insurer did not compensate him for the Sh15 million worth of property that was looted from his rented premises since he did not have a relevant policy.

“They paid Sh4.5 million. That was a tiny sum compared to what I lost through looting,” he said. Mr Mehindi has since opened another business at a rented premises in the town. “Kisumu is the only home I know. I can’t go anywhere else,” he said.

Owners of the former Classic Guest House who requested anonymity said their insurer gave them Sh2.4 million “out of sympathy” because the policy they had bought did not cover for civil disobedience and terrorism.

They said the amount was not even 10 per cent of the investment they had put into the business. What’s more, they were hit in their business’s two branches: at the Dunga Beach and in Milimani estate.

Shitul Enterprises

A worse fate befell the owner of Shitul Enterprises, who said he never received a penny from insurers. He said he had learnt the hard way why putting all of one’s eggs in a basket is a bad idea.

According to Mr Paul Mwaura, who works with the direct sales unit of UAP Insurance in Kisumu, few insurance companies had a cover for political violence when the post-poll chaos broke.

“The first such cover was introduced in Kenya in 2008. However, our company and most other insurers gave out ex-gratia payments to over 15 businesses affected by the chaos,” Mr Mwaura said.

The insurance salesman noted that over 100 traders in Kisumu bought the cover ahead of last year’s General Election, but many did not continue financing their policies after the polls.

“The cover runs for 12 months and is renewable. Most traders, however, didn’t renew it after the election. It is not an advisable thing to do given the volatility of this region,” he said, adding that the cover is more expensive because of its unpredictability aspect.

The marketer said the cover caters for political risks, riots and strikes.

Mr Joseph Tom Mboya, the secretary of the Kisumu Central Business District Association, says mistrust and political risks continues to scare investment in the region. “It is a matter of concern that a building like the former Gulfstream Hotel has lied idle for so long,” he said.




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