BY KENYATTA OTIENO
Last year I made several trips to Western Kenya. One thing I realized as I made my way from Ugenya to Kisumu along Busia-Kisumu road one evening is that the area goes to sleep quite early despite being connected to electricity. The only exception was Luanda market, which is about fifty kilometres from Kisumu. Luanda is situated south West of Vihiga County bordering Kisumu to the South and Siaya to the West. The township derives its name from the granite rocks that dot the land inhibited by the Banyore, a sub tribe of the larger Luhya community.
The Banyore split from the Bunyoro of Uganda and migrated east. They say that they gave the Luhya community the word “mulembe” and the name Luhya as they are the sub-tribe that held consultation in the courtyard (luyaa) of the home to make peace (mulembe). They pride themselves in being the rainmakers in the Luhya community so they were held in high regard or else famine would befall the land. It is said that former National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende’s father, Otiato was the first to set up a business under a tree in Luanda. The Luo to date call the market Luanda K’otiato.
There is an old joke in western that one day in the eighties, former president Daniel arap Moi made a visit to Bunyore land during his campaigns against soil erosion. He addressed the people with the help of a translator. When he urged the people to plant more trees, the translator would tell the people to plant ‘musala’ which in Kinyore also translates to bhang. The joke carried weight because the area was known for bhang smoking and Luanda Market alleys were synonymous with mad people.
Today you will need to look so hard to see the mad men. The township has grown with several real estate developments coming up while the trees planted along the road by the former town council giving it an organized appearance. Luanda always appears to be bursting along the seams during the day with crowds of people weaving their way around vehicles as they slow down along the road that has enough speed bumps. As other market centres including Kisumu City go to sleep as early as 8PM, Luanda remains bustling with people late into the night.
Luanda’s Vihiga County has its headquarters in Mbale Town about fifty kilometres away. The urban centres at the heart of the county government are Majengo, Mbale and Chavakali. Luanda is the forgotten one but developing very fast with little input from the County Government. About five kilometres from Luanda as you go to Kisumu is Maseno, the education complex at the centre of a dispute between Kisumu and Vihiga Counties.
The Boiling Pot
The world over, cities have developed due to convergence of different cultures. When people from different backgrounds come together for economic and social reasons, the end result is an urban centre that may grow into a city. According to United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), more than half of the world’s population lives in urban centres. With the projection that by the year 2030 there will be more than five billion people (about 60 percent of worlds population) living in urban centres worldwide.
In Luanda, the Luo and Luhya sub tribes converge out of convenience every day to add fuel to the boiling pot of micro cultures. On a national scale, the two communities are represented as distinct but homogeneous on their own. At a micro level, there are differences between the Khisa, Banyore and Maragoli sub-tribes of Luhya as well as the Jokisumo, Joseme, Joalego and Jogem among the Luos. Luanda happens to be the nearest and closest one can get to a town similar to Kisumu thus cutting on time and costs of transport for the rural folks.
The Luos of Asembo come to Luanda via Akala through Aluor. This road is under construction and soon people from Siaya West, which holds Asembo and part of Gem will be nearer to Luanda than Kisumu. Then there is the tarmac Road that links Siaya town to Luanda via Sagam. When you cannot get a commodity in Siaya, the next stop will definitely be Luanda.
The people of Busia have found a market that is nearer than Kisumu where you can rush to sell and buy goods and get back home in good time. There is also the recently tarmacked road from Mumias to Luanda via Buyangu. The people South of Kakamega County prefer rushing to Luanda than Kakamega town. You also get the Maragoli from Mbale and Majengo, coming to Luanda via Kima as the road is in good shape. The people in Kisumu West exploit the convenience of the utility Luanda offers in terms of distance and time it takes to navigate through the small urban centre.
This is the reason you will find crowds bustling and hustling in Luanda late into the night as public transport vehicles urge the late travelers to board their vehicles. The different cultural units are converging in Luanda on a daily basis, which has led to its faster growth even as the County Government concentrates on Mbale Town.
There is Maseno, the Anglican Church established education complex about five kilometres away. With the rise in the number of students Universities in Kenya admit, Luanda is strategically placed to be the service provider to Maseno more than Kisumu as universities are by nature a mixture of different cultures adding spice to the boiling pot of Luanda.
Somewhere between Luanda and Maseno is a small village called Mwiyekhe, the place of sand. Just along the road is a Presbyterian Church of East Africa church that is under Kisumu Deacon Court. P.C.E.A is a central Kenya and Kikuyu dominated church. It is rare to find a one in a rural setting anywhere far off from Central Kenya and the “Kikuyu diaspora”. For P.C.E.A to set up a church around Luanda is a statement in itself, that Luanda has over the years attracted people from far and wide.
The factors above have led to a steady increase in population in the area. The Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) split the older Emuhaya Constituency into two. The rural Bunyore remained as Emuhaya while the area around Luanda, the urban side of Emuhaya was renamed Luanda constituency. This is good as it differentiates the interests in the constituency to be more urban than rural.
Looking into the future, Luanda will need a visionary leadership to capitalize on its strategic location. Social services infrastructure development is crucial. The township needs a reliable water supply, sewerage system and feeder road network. Another crucial factor is security, to win over night travellers stopping over for a break, the town must be safe.
As much as some developments are unpredictable as they come from ripple effects of other factors, luck happens to those prepared to grab opportunities. Luanda is on the edge of a tipping point; will investors and the county government capitalize on its strategic location and vibrant population and beat local politics, which tends to slow down progress? Only time will tell.