Postcard Kisumu: Kenya's Africities 2022 capital

APA-Ksumu (Kenya)

The Kenyan city hosting the ninth summit of local government authorities from across Africa has many faces as an economic, cultural and political centre with fluctuating fortunes in the recent past.

Africities is a flagship Pan-African summit of leaders of cities and sub national governments and their associations at the behest of the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG-A).

Its eternal ambition is to advance the continent's decentralization and local governance status with the stated aim of improving the living standards of its citizens.

Since Abidjan in 1998 these summits have been held every three years with other host cities being Johannesburg, South Africa, Dakar, Senegal and Marrakech in Morocco (twice).

As Africities delegates descend on Kisumu, much attention will be focused on the nature of this port city and perhaps how it fits into the continental agenda set out by the UCLG-A.  

In the 1960s, Kisumu witnessed some of Kenya's landmark political events, one of the most unforgettable being the start of a protracted dynastic feud between the families of the current president Uhuru Kenyatta and his long-term nemesis Raila Odinga which will leave far-reaching implications for the country in the intervening few decades.

Kisumu is an English corruption of the Luo word sumo literally meaning a place of barter trade in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times, underlining the city's importance as a economic capital of the East African region. 

Its economic fortunes waned in the late 1970s as bigger Kenyan cities like Nairobi grew in statute as East African economic and cultural hubs, it was only a matter of time before this port city located in western Kenya bounced back from the doldrums.

As Kenya's third largest city after Nairobi, the capital and Mombasa, the coastal town of touristic value, Kisumu's rather modest population of less than 400, 000 inhabitants according to a 2019 census belies its significance as a hub for business that now transcends Kenya's national boundaries. 

In fact in the geographical context of the Great Lakes region it is the third largest city after the Tanzanian city of Mwanza and Kampala in Uganda and earned some international significance as the closest urban centre to Kogelo, the famed hometown of the father of retired US president Barack Obama. 

Like in the past many admirers of Obama making pilgrim journeys to Kogelo do a Kisumu rite of passage to get there, creating its growing reputation as a touristic stopover and one of Kenya's foremost industrial and commercial meccas. 

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the organisers of Africities for the first time ever chose Kisumu as the intermediary city to host its flagship summit which brings together local government authorities on the continent to rub minds with a view to shaping the destiny of its towns and cities.  

The theme for this edition "The Role of Intermediary Cities of Africa in the implementation of Agenda 2030 of the United Nations and the African Union Agenda 2063" speaks to the current infrastructure projects taking place in Kisumu.

Casting a keen eye on urban planning during successive Africities summits, it will be of interest to organisers and participants to know how a so-called intermediary city like Kisumu is witnessing something of a rejuvenation by improving its lake front facade, decongesting its main thoroughfares and rendering them pedestrian-friendly in the process.[


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