Kisumu’s once elite school in ruins - Daily Nation

Kisumu Union in shabby state ahead of centennial celebrations

Sunday June 10 2018

Kisumu Union

One of Kisumu's oldest schools, Kisumu Union Primary School, which boasts of great alumni including Mr Raila Odinga, is in shabby state as it prepares to mark its centenary. Founded in 1918, the school will be celebrating 100 years since its inception. PHOTO | ONDARI OGEGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Kisumu Union Primary School boasts of some of the country’s most successful people yet it lies in a shabby state ahead of centennial celebrations.

The first African Archbishop of the Church Missionary Society before it was renamed Anglican Church of Kenya — the late Festo Habakkuk Olang’ and the country's second Prime Minister Raila Odinga — schooled at the institution.

Started in 1918, the school is set to mark its centenary since it was founded in Kisumu, now a city only 18 years old.

It is 18 years younger than Kisumu City which celebrated its centenary in 2001 in  a pompous and colourful ceremony attended by East African Heads of State among them Daniel Arap Moi (Kenya), Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania) and Yoweri Museveni (Uganda).

Now, Kisumu, a whiteman’s corruption of the word Kisuma, Luo for where hunger stricken people got food, plans to celebrate its 118th year but the school itself, is a shell of its former self , and has not getting any attention.

For this institution, the phrase old is gold, does not hold any water, as it has nothing to celebrate.

The school, which sits on nearly five-hectare piece of land at Ondiek Estate in the Lakeside city, is an example of a forgotten institution.

Formerly called Komulo Primary, with the glitter of successful brains, it now typifies "out of sight out of mind” state as none of its alumni, many of them successful professionals, have come to its aid.

Its name ‘Union’ was coined by the fact that African children were united in seeking education the school.

Mama Grace Onyango, elected mayor of Kisumu town in 1965, and who won a seat in parliament in 1969, becoming the first woman to occupy the two posts had the opportunity to teach at the institution before she went into politics.

Ms Onyango, who together with her husband Edward Onyango Baridi taught at the school says at the time, just a handful of institutions existed which were mission schools.

“The school is one of the oldest having been mooted in 1918 and started in 1919,” Ms Onayngo told Nation at her Tom Mboya Estate home in Kisumu.

Ms Pauline Apondi Aluso, one of the former school heads at the institution who served between 1988 and 1996, says majority of the school’s alumni are successful professionals.

“To the best of my recollection, we have successful medical doctors who passed through the Union school including former Provincial Commissioner Peter Raburu,” Ms Aluso says.


Today, as one enters the school, located a few kilometres from Kisumu CBD, you would not believe some of the stories by its pioneer staff.

It is actually a shell of its former self.

A defaced gate, old and dilapidated structures, as well as a fairly bushy field, welcomes you.

The classrooms are old and most of them have no window panes and some of the staff are forced to use broken seats as the school lacks enough furniture.

Clearly, there is nothing to celebrate even as it marks its centenary.

School head teacher Stephen Mbanda says when it was started, the school which now has 17 teaching staff and 3 non-teaching staff, only children from elite African families in Western Kenya had the opportunity to study here.

“It was started to unite African children hence the name Kisumu Union. When the Railways got into Kisumu in 1901, most schools were reserved for the white children and there was need for a union school for African children,” Mr Mbadi says.

“We have a large tract of land which we salvaged through the courts after some private developers tried to grab it. But in terms of structures, we are still a long way to go despite our age,” added Mr Mbanda.


He says the government capitation, channelled to the institution at the rate of Sh 1,420 per child annually, is not enough for infrastructural development as well as day-to-day running of the School.

“We have to pay for water and electricity leaving us with minimal cash for other services including payment of non-teaching staff,” he says.

Kisumu Union's Parents Teachers Association Chairman Jeckonia Owino told Nation the idea of centenary celebrations “had in fact slipped our minds because of the inadequate resources.”

He says they have numerous challenges “but are doing all we can to keep the fire burning.”

Mr Mbanda says the school currently has about 500 pupils.

The school, despite international connections, is a typical example of an institution struggling to capture attention in vain.

It entered into an international exchange programme with Korea in 2013 to partner with Chungcheongnamdo Asan office of education, a partnership that also benefits Asan Buksu Primary School, Onyang Yonghwa Middle School and Kisumu Union.

“We usually benefit from learning materials from the Korean schools, including sporting kits that we share with other neighbouring schools.”

“Save for this year when the county government took the items from the Korean officials,” added Mr Mbanda.