Written by John Kabaka
Read 4254 Times
The ‘Crying Stone’ (Ikhongo murwi) standing tall on the roadside of the busy Kakamega-Kisumu highway, an estimated four kilometers from Kakamega Town welcomes travelers to the town. The unique granitic rock feature epitomizes the tourism potential in the Western circuit.
The rock with a liquid chemical oozing from the top and the remnants of the Equatorial rain forest lying east of the town in Shinyalu Constituency are the two most distinctive features that makes Kakamega a potential tourist destination.
Also to be found in Kakamega are the colonial gold mines at the Rosterman area. Colonial settlers discovered these deposits during the last century, alienated vast tracts of land from the peasants and laid the early infrastructure leading to the establishment Rosterman.
Hoping the venture would of commercial importance; the colonialists then connected the area onto the national grid, becoming the first in the then North Kavirondo District that brought together the current Western and Nyanza provinces.
The lure of wealth from gold prompted the then Governor Sir Montgomery (The locals corrupted the name to Magomere) to fain ill health, attributed to hostile climate and the mosquito menace in Mumias, which hosted the administrative headquarter of the traditional King Nabongo Mumia and plotted to a relocation to Kakamega.
Unaware that he was laying the foundation of a town that would become a commercial and administrative capital of the second biggest county in the country-Kakamega; the governor’s party lasted only eight years before it collapsed.
The gold deposits were found to be inadequate to sustain commercial mining. Towards the end of 1930, gold mining in Rosterman was stopped and the mines allegedly filled with toxic gases.
Read: Pure gold discovered in Kakamega County with other minerals enough to sustain mill business
Disappointed though, the governor established an office, residence and tribunal court as well as the governor’s pavilion (Masinde Muliro Gardens) laying a foundation stone for a town that immediately slipped back in to an economic coma for decades until the recent years.
Occupying an estimated 49 square kilometers in area, Kakamega town is located in the North of the Equator, about 400 kilometers west of the country’s capital Nairobi. The estimated population of the town is 120,000 according to the 2009 census, although this varies during the day.
The town is linked to the City of Kisumu and the northern corridor that runs from Mombasa to Malaba by the debilitated Kisumu-Kakamega highway. Mumias road links the town to the ancient administrative capital of Mumias by a tarmac road running some 30 kilometers.
The town enjoys a relatively hot and wet climate throughout the year thanks to the only remaining equatorial rain forest in East and Central Africa, the Kakamega forest a rich home of flora and fauna rarely seen in other parts of Africa making it a tourist’s attraction.
The Kakamega Equatorial rain forest in Shinyalu Constituency.
Yes, the unexploited tourist potential, the natural forest flora and fauna, the good climate and fertile soils, and cultural practices that include bull fighting popular among the Isukhas and Idakhos communities are some of the untapped tourism potential.
Kakamega town’s re-birth
However, unlike other provincial towns, Kakamega had for decades stagnated in development until the arrival of the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology which was highly celebrated as the first ever factory to land in the town.
Retired President Daniel Moi upgraded then Western College of Arts and Applied Sciences (Weco) a constituent college of Moi University Eldoret, spurring the town into economic growth.
The establishment changed to Masinde Muliro University making the town a university town.
For years, Kakamega had remained and still is a consumer town with cash flow determined by civil servants with no factories.
The university has proved a big utility harnessing the town’s slackened economic growth through training and employment as well as lure of investors to the area.
“At one point the town was dead, no any serious activity was going on here but the town is now awake and foot because of the university, it is the only serious industry in town that sustains Kakamega,” Professor Egara Kabaji.
Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kakamega. One of the town's key indicator for its growth.
With a total of more than 9000 students, the university has an impact to kakamega town be it economically culturally and other fields.
According to Professor Egara Kabaji, the University’s Director of Director of Public Communication and Publishing, with the population of over 9000, the facility can only provide home for 2000 students while the remaining 7000 seek housing from private hostels in the vicinity.
“The university houses a total number of 2000 students and the remaining number live in private hostels outside the university and that has indeed played a large role towards the growth of the town,” said professor Kabaji.
Prof Kabaji says at least every student spends between 1 and two dollars daily something that has indeed boosted the town’s economy.
Apart from the student population, the university has more than 200 teaching staff and more than 500 non teaching staff.
According to the don the university spends Sh 76 million monthly in terms of salaries to both the teaching and the non teaching staff.
In settling the salaries the university has an upper hand because some of the money used comes from the government allocations considering that the institution is under the government whose Chancellor is his Excellency President Mwai Kibaki.
The university has remained diverse as it absorbs students not only nationally but also from the entire East Africa and even South Africa.
The staff at the university according to Professor Kabaji is as well mixed up with the lecturers being hired from all over Africa.
“This in fact should be referred to as an international university because we don’t discriminate but we look at the merit, this where you can find every African,” he said.
The students who reside in private hostels at least pay Sh3, 000 per month for accommodation. In most cases the students cater for themselves in terms of food because food isn’t provided by the hostel owners.
“The university has played a big role when it comes to farming in the region because the farm products have a ready market,” observed Professor Kabaji.
“In fact for your information the lecturers at the university stay outside and some have bought land where they have built homes, this has made the price of plots in town to go up, I can assure the price of plots in Kakamega is more expensive than the price of the same plot in Nairobi and Eldoret,” he added.
After listening to all that someone might ask how the university has changed the moral fabric of the town, yes, it has. According to residents before the university came few people could put on miniskirts and even trousers but curently the mode of dressing has changed in a big way.
But as to the conservatives, the university has played a larger role in promoting promiscuity in town something that the don disagrees with.
He says every person has a right to dress decently and no one should raise a finger on who has not dressed badly given that the person is comfortable.
That aside, most of the businessmen and women in town have agreed that the coming of the institution is indeed a blessing.
More buildings have been seen in town, hotels have come up and news social places set up. Investors from all corners are flocking the town to invest thus employment creation.
CoOperative Bank of Kakamega is among the new entrants to make inroads in Kakamega together with Family, and Equity Banks.
The arrival of commercial banks like Co-operative, Equity, National Bank, Family Bank Equatorial Commercial Bank, Bank of Baroda and Diamond trust bank attests to the sound economy of the town.
For decades, the town had remained with KCB, Standard Chartered, Post bank and Barclay’s banks. The vibrant real estate sector that has seen a rapid growth in the hospitality industry.
The rapid growth in the last five years has seen establishment of Siaya Guest, Sheywe Guest, Jamindas Paradise, and Kamadep Guest all providing an alternative choice to the three-star Golf Hotel.
Nakumatt Kakamega Branch.One of the best performing Nakumatt outlet chain.
The opening of supermarket branches in Kakamega by national retail chains like Nakumatt and Tuskys has opened an unprecedented search for space by rivals Nivas and Ukwala supermarkets and other investors that has pushed the cost of land in the town beyond reach by ordinary Kenyans.
This search for space has subsequently raised the sale price for plots and revolutionized a dormant construction industry to such extend that undeveloped plot within the town which ordinarily traded at Sh.0.5 million in the past would now fetch up to Sh.5 million.
Housing sector has also experienced a rebirth in the recent past with demand for rental space for both residential and commercial purposes as well as rent charged hitting the roof.
According to Kakamega Town Clerk Stephen Mukabwe, applications for leasehold land in town have trebled in the past five years even though the local authority has exhausted land to allocate to investors.
He says, “We reviewing the lease agreements for defaulters and undeveloped plots so that this can be reprocessed and transferred to serious investors.”
Rapid rise in population, establishment of a university and other tertiary institutions and effects of the 2007/8 politically instigated violence has ignited a preposterous demand for development land, housing and business space in Kakamega town.
Unlike in the past where it was considered normal to find an entire top floor of a commercial building or office block at the center of the town vacant, the reverse is the case with land lords smiling all the way to banks with rent income paid up front.
In the past three years, demand for housing and business space in Kakamega town mainly precipitated by lack of adequate lecture halls and accommodation hostels at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (Mmust) moved to a crisis level.
According to Property Agent Nelson Esebwe of the Black Bess Surveyors, there is no more land for allotment to individuals within the council-owned 7 square kilometer leasehold area encompassing four blocks.
Kakamega Town Clerk Newton Mukabue admitting that fact notes, “We’ve turned away several key investors in the past who insisted that they be allocated land directly by the council. The council has no more land for allotment.”
He says the council was in the process of securing land through buying from the freehold area as well as repossession of either undeveloped or accumulated arrears in lieu of rate which total 41 plots as part of a plan to re-zone the town.
Another key aspect of the new challenges is the introduction of a new regulation, according to Mukabue, requiring owners of all commercial plots to raise the heights of any upcoming building in order to expand accommodation space.
Some of the new buildings dotting the sky of Kakamega
Among investors who applied in vain to secure land for investment include Export Processing Zone (EPZ), Toyota Kenya, Gailey and Robberts and Kenya breweries limited just to name but a few.
According to the Town Engineer Stanley Adeya, though the initial town plan has been altered through numerous change of use, the municipality block one was earmarked for establishment of light industries and for commercial purposes.
These area forms the centre of Kakamega town, demarcated by the Kenyatta Avenue (King George V street), Sudi Road, Maziwa Road and Canon Awori street, nicknamed the red light street of Kakamega.
The second quarter of the town falls under the municipality block two. The area is dotted by education institutions, government establishment and individual and corporate housing estates.
The municipality block three harbours the leafy Milimani Estate, the police headquarters and residences, the PC and DC’s offices, the county council offices, the law courts and the top notch Golf Hotel.
Also under this block are some of the town’s major land owners, including the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari), exclusive Kakamega Sports Club who own the Golf course and Mmust. The block four area comprise the provincial hospital, the medical training college, old airstrip and the sprawling Amalemba Estate.
The value for land and developed property is highest in the municipality block one and two, according to Esebwe. An eighth-acre undeveloped plot in the two localities close to the commercial center would ordinarily attract Ksh2 million onwards.
Depending on the cost of material used, developed plots would bargain from Sh7 million to Sh25 million. Five years ago, similar property would sell for between Sh4-7 million, while Sh1 million would be considered a windfall on the undeveloped plot.
Prospecting home owners need between Sh1-2 million to guarantee themselves a quarter-acre residential plot within the two blocks up from Sh 0.8 million downwards previously. Developed residential could cost for between Sh 3-10 million.
A prospector would require at least Sh 2 million to buy a quarter acre plot in Milimani Estate found the block three or between Sh8-10 million to buy a mansionatte or bungalow.
Rent is also highest in Milimani estate compared to other areas with land lords charging up to Sh.25, 000 for a two-bedroomed house and up to Sh 35,000 for three bed roomed. For government officers residing in the estate rent is levied on pay slips at Sh 12,000 for three bed roomed houses, servant’s quarter and kitchen garden.
Esebwe says increase in the number of education institution has exacerbated the housing problem in town and pushed up levies in all peripheral residential estate and commercial space in utter disregard to the rent control laws.
An aerial view of the Kakamega Town with some of the settlement houses
In other estates, renting a single room cost between Sh1, 000-3,000 depending on the location from the town and the security situation. Rent for two bedroom houses range from Sh4,000-8,000 while three bedroom houses vary between Sh10,000 and Sh.15,000.
“Mmust is renting available space on any high rise building in this town either as a lecture hall or to accommodate the students. Commercial colleges are caught up in the scramble. This preposterous demand has given impetus to land lords to raise rent,” Esebwe observes.
Economy and Tourism
Behind the bustle in the dusty and crowded streets, unending façade of rusty prefabs, unsanctioned dumpsites, unlit and open sewer lines on the backstreet, a new town, an administration and commercial hub of a county is shaping out of old Kakamega.
Located north of the equator, Kakamega town borders one of the world’s few remaining tropical rainforest; Kakamega forest on the eastern part and has a population of 100,000 according to the 2009 national population census survey.
Entrance to the Rondo retreat and kakamega forest
The town has a huge untapped tourism potential seemingly conceited by a canopy of the Kakamega forest and its enchanting flora and fauna as well as the fascinating rock patterns and a multiplicity of varied local cultures.
They include the talking Isukuti drums and the dancing fighter bulls of the Isukha and Idakho sub-tribes and the cockfight of the Batsotso and Kabras sub tribes of the Luhya just to name but few.
The area is hot and wet throughout the year, is endowed with relatively fertile soils for agriculture and pockets rocky sections that could be exploited economically for quarrying and mining.
Kakamega is basically a humble one-street consumer town, perhaps resuscitated from induced comatose through the establishment of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (Mmust) 2002.
Though lately, new players in the consumer, hospitality and transport sectors have emerged to robustly participate in the town’s economy, the Mmust remains the overriding factor in this absence of any other serious industry.
The fuel the education sector affords to the economy of the town is contributed by the fraternity at the Medical Training College (MTC), Bukura Agricultural College (BAC) and Sigalagala institute and Kakamega High’ which were recently elevated to national polytechnic and school respectively.
Demand for tertiary education has seemingly sparked off huge demand for office and residential space attracting interest from local investors in real estate with resources to bridge the deficit in the absence foreign and government intervention.
Mmust, whose facilities are overly outstretched recently held a public/private sectors forum and offered to lease up land at the institution for 25 years to investors to put up student hostels in bid to check the accommodation crisis that has some students differ their courses.
Indeed apart from, education, the local construction industry is robustly emerging as the next vibrant sector in the area with workers eking out a living; either erecting a new edifice or pulling down an old clapboard shanty to meet an ever rising demand for business and accommodation space.
These, alongside the banking sector, which in the past five years has a total of thirteen commercial banks to establish branches in the town has heralded an arguable frontage of immeasurable changes in town’s economy and opened a scramble for plots in the supposed county headquarters.
In the past five years, new hotels including Sheywe cottages, Kamadep, Kakamega and Jamindas paradise hotels are just but a few facilities that have come up to challenge state owned Golf Hotel and the exclusive Kakamega sports club and the classy Rondo retreat resort deep into the Kakamega forest.
The Kakamega Town Clock that was erected 8th may 1935 in commermoration of the 25th Anniversary of the throne accession of his Majesty king George V.
Future projections for the town’s growth sustainability
And yes, plots within Kakamega town centre have become the most treasured items for land speculators, brokers and investors crawling the streets and alleys, opening up the perceived wastelands to multi-million business centres and residences.
Kakamega town clerk Newton Mkabue says the demand for leasehold plots in the town was unmanageable adding the council had frozen the allocation of plots to individuals.
“We are not giving individuals plots. In any case we are in the process of seizing undeveloped plots for reallocation. Only corporates and serious firms of investors shall be considered,” he told this interview.
Indeed as proof of this commitment, the council has identified land for two donor projects. The Sh.1 billion World Bank funded infrastructure development program for the town and another Sh.800 million Un Habitat to construct low cost residential houses.
The Bank’s project financed under the Kenya municipal program is set to establish an expanded modern market in addition to the current one under construction at the cost of Sh123 million, to encompass the fish section and bus park and machinery.
Un-Habitat has earmarked the funds to develop middle income residential houses. The houses will be spread in Masingo, Makaburini, Majengo and Rosterman slum areas, where the council hopes to move squatters from estimated 100 acres trust-land.
Mkabue believes the housing program would alleviate the housing crisis brought up by the demand for accommodation by students and lecturers at Mmust. The council, he says, was planning to develop access road network linking the town to peri-urban areas and to install lighting masts to secure such areas as means to decongest the town.
Kakamega Mayor Mathias Sechele says the council has approved a new rule requiring the engineers department to limit the construction of ordinary shops within plots in the town center as a measure to maximise on use of the limited space.
Last year, Lake Victoria North Water Services Board (LVNWSB) commissioned the Sh.2 billion water project targeting to supply 15,000 cubic meters of water daily to the estimated 120,000 residents of the town.
Currently the water provider projects that the town’s daily water needs stand at 10,000 cubic metres (approximately 10 million litres). The mayor says the town needs total reorganization to cope with the rapid infrastructure development and population growth.
“The planners of this town had a smaller vision. They saw a stunted town with a small population and planned that way. You can see that with the old sewerage system. Narrow roads or were demoralized by the collapse of the ancient mining activities,” observed the mayor.
And with the maintenance of the Kakamega airstrip underway, then one can just expect more from the town in terms of transport and farming.
Switch to Our Mobile Site