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Building of many firsts that defines Kisumu

Monday October 28 2019

Kisumu City Hall

Visitors are welcomed to Kisumu City Hall on October 18, 2019. The history of the building dates back to 1903. PHOTO | ONDARI OGEGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ANGELINE OCHIENG
By ANGELINE OCHIENG
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The mention of Kisumu City Hall building evokes memories of the various historical phases the building has undergone since its construction in 1957.

Sandwiched between the Kenya Commercial Bank and Kisumu High Court, the 62-year-old building overlooking the Kisumu Freedom Park boasts a rich history.

If the building could talk, many would get to understand that the history of Kisumu entails much more than being a railway terminus.

It is an office of many firsts, having housed the first African mayor, the first African woman mayor, and the first Asian mayor in Kenya.

The history of the building dates back to 1903, when the British government put into action the plan to build Kisumu township on its 12,000-acre parcel.

At the time, all the businesses in the town were managed by the township committee.

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UPGRADE

With time however, the residents started feeling that the town was generating a lot of money, which was not properly handled by the committee.

They also felt like the town had reached a point where it needed to be upgraded to a municipality. But the local colonial administration refused.

“In 1940, the government created a municipal board at the Tivoli Centre to run the businesses in Kisumu, amid objections from the Africans and Asians,” says Mr Michael Opodi Owuor, who has been working in the office since 1995.

Later, the colonial administration relocated the office to a larger building due to inadequate space at its original location.

Building of the Municipal Hall, now City Hall, began in 1956. It was opened in 1957 by Sir Evelyn Baring, the governor of Kenya.

FIRST LEADERS

The building housed the mayor’s office, the office of the city clerk, and councillors’ chambers.

It also housed various departments, including those of the environment, social services and gender, housing, planning, engineering, procurement and the inspectorate.

British commissioner Stanley Everett was made the first mayor of Kisumu, while former Councillor Mathew. P. Ondiek became the town’s first African mayor.

The city hall was now entrusted with the running of all local businesses. The mayor worked hand in hand with the city clerk and an assistant.

Mayor Ondiek died in 1965 during his fourth term in office and was succeeded by the first African Woman mayor, Grace Onyango.

She was in office for only a year before stepping down to vie for a parliamentary seat. It took another 39 years before another woman, Ms Prisca Auma, was elected to the office.

RADICAL CHANGES

The government also adopted the habit of replacing mayors with commissioners every time a mayor “misbehaved”.

Kenya’s second president, Daniel Moi, brought in the first commissioner, Mr Vincent arap Too, who was in office from 1978 to 1980.

In 1992, Kisumu got a new mayor after incumbent Oselu Nyalik was seen as ineffective.

According to Mr Owuor, things were bad in the city. The workers could not be paid while some clients were given fake receipts, provoking the residents anger.

“The residents were so annoyed that they bought a coffin, dressed like mourners and paraded in front of the hall, wailing because of their ‘dead’ mayor,” says Mr Owuor.

This saw Mr Nyalik replaced with Laurence Akinyi Oile in 1993.

In 2000, the building registered another first when it housed the country’s first mayor of Asian descent.

Former Councillor Shakeel Shabbir, the current Kisumu East MP, became the first mayor of Asian descent in Kenya. The town continued to be headed by a mayor until the advent of devolution in 2013.

DEVOLUTION

Kisumu is one of Kenya’s three cities. Its head become a governor and constituted an executive, a county government and a local assembly. This saw the municipal building renamed City Hall.

The mayor’s role became redundant while the city clerk’s role was taken over by the city manager. The last mayor, Mr Sam Okello, became the first city manager.

However, he has since been replaced by Ms Doris Ombara. The City Hall has undergone many renovations, but its basic structure has remained the same.

“We were told that changing the building’s structure would only destroy it, so all we do is carry out occasional simple renovations,” says Ms Celestine Collins, the acting assistant city manager.

At the beginning of the year, Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o expressed his desire to move his office from Prosperity House to City Hall.

“He wanted to move into the mayor’s office while the councillors chambers would be transformed into his visitors’ room,” Mr Owuor says.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s office is undergoing renovations.

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