Eleven years since it was envisioned, Kisumu may finally have taken the path to attaining the status of an industrial hub.
This follows Monday’s pledge to kick-start the process of setting up a special industrial zone in the region. This is part of the Sh14 billion national government plan to breathe life into the sleeping economy of the lakeside city.
There are, however, fears that the project may fail to take off due to a dispute over land where it is intended to be put up.
Kisumu was among the three towns that were earmarked for the setting up of a special economic zone to boost exports under Vision 2030. Others are Mombasa and Lamu.
Kisumu was found to be the best to host the region’s industrial zone given its strategic location on Lake Victoria. The industrial park was to sit on a 100,000-acre piece of land.
But the process of setting up the park has been slow with the land issue cited as a major hindrance to the project.
The government, through the Ministry of Trade and Industrialisation, decided to start the project on 500 acres availed by the county government for the industrial park.
When they toured the project site on Monday, Trade Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, African Union High Commissioner for Infrastructure Raila Odinga, and Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia announced that Sh500 million had been set aside to start the project immediately, an indication that the venture was finally taking off.
“Our coming here today marks the beginning of the establishment of the Kisumu Special Economic Zone slated for official launch by President Uhuru Kenyatta in August,” Mr Odinga said.
The proposed land for the industrial city is in Ombeyi in Muhoroni, an hour’s drive from Kisumu central business district.
Muhoroni was found to be the best location for the project because of the vast uninhabited land, a greater part of it government owned. According to the county government, this meant it would require minimal resettlement of people.
However, the project could be headed into headwinds due to the conflict over ownership of the land. A section of residents has questioned the criteria used to acquire the land.
The land tussle played out during the Monday visit when a group of disgruntled residents staged a protest before Mr Odinga, claiming that the local community was not consulted on the use of the land for the upcoming project.
The group argued that it was ancestral land that was acquired by Kisumu Municipal Council in the 1980s and that those who were displaced have not been compensated.
The locals demanded public participation, arguing that the government should have compensated them for the land. But the Nation has learnt that the land was flood prone and some locals were relocated to new areas in the 1980s. The land has been lying idle since then.
The latest conflict could derail the government plan if it is not resolved amicably. Speaking after the visit, Kisumu Senator Fred Outa expressed fear that the planned project may fail to take off if residents move to court.
“There is clear evidence that the project’s implementation was not done according to the law. Anyone can go to court to challenge this and it would be a setback to county residents,” the legislator said.
He argued that the county government overlooked the public participation process, which he said, will affect implementation of the project.
“It is a mandatory requirement in the Constitution that the government needs to conduct public participation. Why can’t our government do so?” Mr Outa asked.
The envisaged industrial park will fit into the greater economic development plan for Kisumu where maritime activities are set to be revived as part of the transformation of the city into a robust economic hub.
Mr Odinga said completion of the project will see the SGR reach Kisumu, roads and industries built, among other developments; thus creating jobs and investment opportunities.
According to sources, the projects are being treated as urgent and will be expedited in the next three months.
In August, presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni and Félix Tshisekedi are expected to return to Kisumu to officially launch the projects including an oil jetty, a ship assembly yard, and a refurbished port and airport as part of efforts to jump-start the sleeping giant that Kisumu.