“Maseno!!! …Maseno!!! …Here Maseno van!!! …Maseno!!! ...ni soo moja,” the energetic tout calls out. His shouts are not just directed at the fresh faced student types but to everyone at the “bihafra Nissans stage” (those that do not enter the main stage for being in a hurry).
The battered 14-seater battered vans with graffiti splashed on their sides are all dressed up to go and Maseno is just on of the places. They also travel to other destinations; Luanda, Siaya, Busia up to the border with Uganda.
The matatu makes its way against the backdrop of green landscape of herbal beauty interrupted by a rocky outcrop of the scenic Emabugo Hill where thousands of monkeys oscillate. A cool breeze from Lake Victoria blows gentle kisses on everything in its way and about 40 minutes later, the bold writing on a gate beckons. Maseno University it proclaims.
The university which has been a centre of excellence since its inception in the early 1900s is home to thousands of students drawn from across the country. Within its gates are indigenous trees known in local dialects as “Oseno” or “Oluseno” among the Luo and Luhya communities respectively. Out of this tree Rev. Willis, the pioneer who founded the centre coined the name Maseno.
From a few buildings then, Maseno region has seen tremendous growth in its infrastructure with tall, magnificent storey buildings making rising up into the sky. There too are good roads all of whom seem to lead to these gates teeming with students in all their youthful exuberance who have transformed the fortunes of this town.
According to Maseno University Office of Admission Registrar, the institution has had progressive rise in students for seven successive years culminating in its current population of 12,941.
According to Professor Agola Auma Osolo, from the School of Development and Strategic Studies, the university opened a new glorious chapter for the area and in the process creating numerous jobs.
“The inception of Maseno University in 1991 and its subsequent award of Charter in 2000 opened a new socio-economic chapter in this region. The institution led to the convergence of diverse knowledge of various disciplines as either students or lecturers. This, over time, has led to population pressure in the area arousing demand to establish more shops, hotels, residential apartments and other social amenities,” he said.
Today, the rental estates have grown along the periphery of the university with some stretching beyond two kilometers from the institution. The current university population pressure has forced students to seek residence as far as Luanda town, Chula Imbo and Ojola centers, all kilometers away from the institution’s premise.
Mr Daniel Masa, a statistician in the Office of the Academic Registrar concurs saying that the locals have been the largest beneficiary of the economic boom.
“The students have become key economic stakeholders in the region. This is evident by the thriving businesses around. Maseno Centre is steadily growing, marketers cashing in, private developers building modern and lavish residential apartments, bodaboda riders shuttling the students on their daily commute while hotels and kiosks are doing brisk business, he said.
As with every success story, everyone wants a share of the action. The institution is currently at the Centre of a dispute pitting Kisumu against Vihiga Counties. Both counties claim ownership of the Centre, however, pundits believe Kisumu County has a greater stake in the claim.
The Maseno border row arose when Vihiga County Governor Moses Akaranga said his county continues to lose millions in revenue collected by the Kisumu County government. His remarks shows the political establishment was not blind to the lucrative business hub that is Maseno.
Prof Osolo argues that most conflicts have their origin in the resource sharing.
“Border dispute is a very contentious issue in Kenya which I wouldn’t wish to comment about but essentially such conflicts arise whenever there is interest of resources. Maseno University therefore forms the fulcrum and heart of business prospects in the area.”
Many local businesspersons contacted in deed concurred University students are the wheels driving the town. A barber at Maseno Centre, Dan Omondi, says students were his best customers bringing in about 90 percent of his total business.
“Students are my daily customers and whenever the university closes a freezing economic depression blankets my premise,” he said.
LUMP SUM PAYMENTS
The same sentiments were echoed by Monica Eshiwani, a fruit and vegetable vendor at the centre. The sole breadwinner of her family, Eshiwani says that through her vegetable vending she has been able to provide for her family as well as paying her children school fees.
The mother of six smiles with a bold confidence as she responds to questions while attending to customers in her stall.
“My business has given me strong economic advantage. I sincerely owe much allegiance to students who are the majority of our customers. You just see by yourself, their presence is quite amazing,” declares Mrs Eshiwani beaming broadly.
Mr. Laurence Ochieng’ Nabutete, 65 years, owns hostels around Maseno University he pockets a lump sum every semester. He says hostel business is flourishing which has encouraged more developers to build yet more hostels. He says he collects a lump sum payment at the beginning of every semester.
“With our moderate charges, we still make good cash,” says Mr. Ochieng’, the father of eight who says he encourages other hostel owners to keep their rates low.
An employee at one of the hostels in Maseno town, a two flat-hostel has a capacity of 130 students each paying sh12, 000 per semester. This translates to sh1.56million per semester.
It is therefore no surprise every Kisumu tout would shout the name “Maseno”. It is where the money is after all.