Kenya: Grands Plans Underway as Maseno Becomes Newest Town in Kisumu

15 September 2020

Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o has inaugurated Maseno as the newest town in Kisumu County, ignoring a thorny border dispute with its neighbour Vihiga.

The development was based on the thriving fortunes of an urban centre whose foundation was laid by missionaries who set up the oldest formal educational institution in the country.

For over a decade now, Maseno has risen from a humble beginning to one of the fastest growing townships in the country.

The town credits its growth to the existence of Maseno University.

With Maseno's elevation to a town, the county plans to make it an education hub. It is considering building a research centre and light industries to support the thousands of people living there.

Famous tree

In 1906, when the Church Missionary Society sent Reverend James Jamieson Willis to explore the Lake Victoria region as a prospective place for the establishment of a mission, he pitched tent under a carya ovalis tree.

The tree, known as Oseno in Luo and Oluseno in Luhya, became the fulcrum of development for the area which adopted the name Maseno.

From the spot at the border of Kisumu and Vihiga counties, the missionaries built the Rock of Ages chapel, which later became known as St Paul's Chapel.

In the same year, they also built Maseno School which taught how to read and write, besides offering carpentry, masonry and tailoring courses for the children of African chiefs from the local area.

Some of the prominent personalities who went through the institution are Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Ramogi Achieng Oneko, Barack Obama Sr, former National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende, former Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim and Prof Thomas Odhiambo.

The institution attracted a number of missionaries and teachers such as Edward Carey Francis, arguably one of the most influential educationists in Kenya's modern history.

Prof Nyong'o, who grew up in the neighbouring Rata village in Seme Sub-County, said the missionaries provided a ready market for their harvests as they trekked to sell their farm produce.

"I remember, with nostalgia, making trips to Maseno to sell vegetables grown in my mother's backyard to the missionaries who lived here many years ago," he said during the launch of Maseno town.

Tourist destination

The town, which straddles the Equator, has also become one of the leading tourist destinations in the country.

In 1935, veterinary and nursing schools were set up at Maseno. The nursing school was established to train nursing assistants and midwives.

Siriba Teachers Training College was set up in 1940 before merging with the Government Training Institute to become Maseno University in 1990.

Maseno was a constituent college of Moi University for 11 years before becoming a full-fledged university in 2001.

From this premise, the town, located along the Kisumu-Busia road, 25 km from Kisumu City, has witnessed tremendous growth over the years.

Border dispute

The town has, however, been dogged by controversy over the boundary dispute between Kisumu and Vihiga counties.

Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo said the disagreement dates back to 1962 when the boundary between Kisumu and Kakamega district was erroneously hived off and Maseno land annexed as part of Kisumu.

"In our efforts to agitate for the return of Maseno to Vihiga, we have sought use of historical maps and documents as reference points when demarcating the boundaries in order to correct this historical injustice," he said.

While expressing concerns over the slow pace of resolving the issue, Mr Ottichilo called on the neighbouring communities to avoid violence as the dispute still remains in the form of a petition before Parliament.

Following the elevation, Maseno will now have a dedicated team of staff headed by the office of the town administrator working under the oversight of a town committee set up in line with the Urban Areas and Cities Act.

The county chief said Kennedy Hongo has been appointed acting town administrator and promised that members of the committee will reflect the diversity of Maseno's residents.

Huge potential

By virtue of being a university town, said Prof Nyong'o, Maseno has the capacity to contribute to the socio-economic transformation of Kisumu, the Western region and even East Africa.

"The growth of Maseno will not only bring services closer to the people but also create opportunities for thousands of people. This will also serve to reduce pressure on the city of Kisumu," he said.

Maseno University Vice-Chancellor Julius Nyabundi said the student population has grown from 2,700 to 20,000 in the last three years.

"This has seen the mushrooming of rental houses and a contribution of at least Sh2 billion per year from the students alone," Prof Nyabundi said.

However, he noted that the population has caused challenges in access to water amid lack of a sewerage system.

According to the Constitution, an area shall be eligible for the grant of the status of a town if it has a population of at least 10,000 residents and can demonstrate economic, functional and financial viability.

Kisumu's Lands, Housing, Physical Planning and Urban Development Executive Dixon Obungu said Maseno currently has a population of 60,000.

To underscore the county's commitment to realisation of the Maseno dream, Governor Nyong'o said over Sh40 million in the current financial year has been allocated to water and sewerage services, road and lighting infrastructure, solid waste management and tourism development in Maseno.

"I am aware that this is not enough but it is a statement that going forward, we will have a dedicated budget for Maseno town to adequately offer services to her residents," he said.

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