Kenya: Welcome to Kendu Bay, Ancient Town With No Bank

The fact that the destiny of one of the country's oldest commercial hubs in Homa Bay County has been left to fate is not in doubt.

A visit to Kendu Bay town lifts the lid on the miserable turn of events as derelict and abandoned structures in the old town tells the sad tale of the urban centre which has become a mere relic of its illustrious past.

In the early 20th century, commercial activities were vibrant as Christian Missionaries, Indians and Arabs scrambled for a piece of the rural town whose port was centrally located to the administrative units of the larger South Nyanza and the port of Kisumu.

However, fate seems to have deserted the lakeside town - locally referred to as Kanyasoro - as the ruins of the port town stand like skeletal reminders of the settlement's history.

To add onto its plight, no mainstream bank has considered setting up a physical branch in the town despite being a key administrative unit and getting listed among the four primary urban centres in Homa Bay County.

According to the County Integrated Development Plan, Homa Bay, Mbita, Oyugis and Kendu Bay are recognised as townships based on their population of over 10,000 persons.

"Out of all these, it is only Kendu Bay that has no major financial institution even as Ndhiwa boasts of Cooperative Bank outlet," said Samson Koliech, a businessman at Kendu Bay town.

Over the years, the number of people settling in Kendu Bay has been increasing and is projected to grow further as people seeking services at the headquarters of Rachuonyo North Sub County continue to surge.

The collapse of Kendu Bay port and marine transport was the final nail in the coffin of the nascent urban centre that saw economic activities shift from the archaic Arab-owned shops to the busy Kisumu - Homa Bay and Kendu Bay - Oyugis roads.

Being a district headquarter, where a host of civil servants, security officers, teachers, businessmen and non-governmental institutions reside, not having a major bank is (arguably) one of the biggest setbacks for the growth of the town, said Mr Robert Sangori.

Among other professionals drawn from the region, Mr Sangori, who is also the former chief officer for Lands, Housing, Physical Planning and Urban Development in Homa County, said they have formed a committee whose role is to persuade a financial institution to set up a branch in the town.

"In partnership with the county government and other private sector players, we have started engaging local financial institutions to set up a branch in Kendu Bay," he said.

He expressed confidence that the establishment of a bank will provide a viable way of rekindling the prospects of the town.

"We have nothing to smile about as people have to travel up to 100km for banking services. In effect, we are also losing out on business opportunities," said Mr Sangori.

The nearest bank branches are situated in Oyugis, Homa Bay Town, Kisii and Ahero.

Other than mobile banking services and agency banking, Kendu Bay residents are served with Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (KWFT) which also covers an expansive region of Rachuonyo North, Rachuonyo South and Rangwe sub counties.

In collaboration with the county government, Mr Sangori said that the professionals have already sent a proposal to Kenya Commercial Bank, Faulu Kenya and Equity Bank.

Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers Secretary General Akello Misori, who hails from Mawego area, pointed out that the opening of a new branch will improve credit lines of local entrepreneurs who will be able to access affordable customer-focused credit.

"For being loyal customers, banking institutions are more likely to advance loans to their clients and initiate some corporate social responsibility programmes in the area," added Mr Misori.

Mr Koliech, who operates a retail shop in the town, says that it can get frustrating when one wants to withdraw or deposit huge sums of money.

"At times, traders are forced to keep the money in their houses and this poses security risk," he said.

For businesses and organisations that collect large amounts of cash, the owners are forced to make daily trips to the bank to deposit the funds either in Homa Bay or Oyugis towns.

While most banks are adopting alternative delivery of channels such as mobile phone banking and internet banking in a bid to maintain profitability, illiterate and senior citizens in the remote areas are likely to suffer.

According to the 2019 Bank Supervision report by the Central Bank of Kenya, the number of bank branches decreased from 1,505 in 2018 to 1,490 in 2019.

Even as the trend persists, Mr Sangori expressed confidence that establishment of a physical bank branch by one of the main institutions will turn around the fortunes of Kendu Bay while tapping into the huge potential that it portends.

Notable institutions within the town and its surrounding include Gendia Adventist Mission Hospital and Medical College, Kendu Sub County Hospital, Hotel Pikadili, a number of village polytechnics and vocational training centres like Mawego Technical Institute as well as hundreds of primary and secondary schools.

On the other hand, major tourism attraction centres include the legendary Simbi Nyaima, hot springs of Homa Hills and Ondago Swamp. The town also boasts of being where former US President Barack Obama's father was born.

Before the collapse of cotton growing, Kendu Bay town had one of the largest ginneries in the former cotton growing belt of South Nyanza.

As residents wait for any attempt to revive the treasures of the fallen giant and unlock the economic potential of the town, the bushy pier, falling walls, rusty roofs and the empty streets of the ghost town will remain to be creepy spots to pose for Instagram photos while the residents will remain to reminisce the good old days.

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