Its History and Role in the Social, Economic, and Political Development of Kisumu. Kisumu City Hall is a building which for many years was known as Kisumu Municipal Hall. The building is located on Uhuru Road in Kisumu. The hallways and rooms in this building have a lot to tell. From the first African to the first woman and to the first Asian to be elected mayor, the Hall has seen a lot of firsts. It holds the record for many achievements in the history of Kenya. It has contributed immensely to the development of Kisumu. This essay examines the construction of the Hall, its evolution from a Municipal Hall to a City Hall, and its contribution to the social, economic, and political development of Kisumu and its residents.
The construction of Kisumu Municipal Hall (now City Hall) started in 1956, and, after a year, the Hall was completed and was officially opened by Sir Evelyn Baring, the Governor of Kenya, on July 11, 1957. This building has come to assume a larger-than-life status in the history of Kisumu. From the time Kisumu was a mere township to the time it became a municipality and then a city, most of the major decisions concerning the affairs of the city as well as the surrounding areas were either decided within the precincts of the Hall or a stone’s throw away at the Old Nyanza Provincial Headquarters.
Kisumu Municipal Hall is also the building that holds the record for being the office of the first African to be elected mayor in Kenya, and this happened when Mathias P. Ondiek was elected mayor in 1961. Kisumu Municipal Council also holds the record for being the place where the first woman anywhere in the Republic of Kenya was elected mayor—this was when Grace Onyango was elected as mayor of Kisumu in 1965. The Hall also has the distinction of being the office of the first Asian to be elected mayor in Kenya, and this was when Shakeel Ahmed Shabir was elected Mayor of Kisumu in 2000. If only this building could speak, we could learn a lot about Kisumu and the people who have been running the city since its inception as a mere railway terminus more than a century ago.
Kisumu is said to have first emerged as a notable market place where indigenous Africans met to buy food and exchange goods during the early centuries. This was during the pre-colonial period. Near the turn of the twentieth century, the fortune of Kisumu took a turn: The British built a railway, the Kenya-Uganda Railway, connecting the coastal city of Mombasa to Kisumu, transforming this small, sleeping market place into a major town in the interior of East Africa. It took nearly five years for the railway, which ran the length of the countryside from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean to the interior in Kisumu on Lake Victoria, to be completed. The Kenya-Uganda Railway linked Mombasa to Kisumu and then, through Lake Victoria, Uganda. The building of the railway was therefore an important development in the history of Kisumu. Indeed, Bethwell A. Ogot has called it “the single most important development ‘tool’ in the history of East Africa.”
As the main terminal for the Kenya–Uganda Railway connection between Uganda and the Indian Ocean, the railway transformed Kisumu. More people settled in the town to look for jobs or opportunities not available to them in the countryside. Government officials also settled in the town, making the place the focal point for transacting government business. The government started developing plans for building the township of Kisumu in 1899. By 1903, with the Kisumu township boundaries newly drawn, approximately 12,000 acres were ready to be developed. In 1912, the British built the Kisumu Hotel, another important development in the transformation of the town.
During the early years, all of the business in the town was conducted through a township committee. A number of the members of town committee believed that, while the town was doing well and generating a lot of revenue, the surplus of the town’s revenue was being taken elsewhere instead of being used for the development of the town. Some of the members of the committee also believed that the town had reached a point in its history where it should be a municipality. But, the local government commissioner claimed the town was not ready for municipality status, and he declined petitions from the town committee requesting to make Kisumu a municipality.
Later on, however, views changed. It is not clear how or when, but, the government eventually decided to create a Municipal Board to run Kisumu. Ironically, this was done in the middle of objections from African and Asian townspeople who opposed a Municipal Board. There are reports that Africans were against the Municipal Board because, according to Ogot, “it would result in increased restrictions on African activities.” Asians, on the other hand, were against the Municipal Board for other reasons. As Ogot has argued, the “Asians feared that [the creation of the Board would] result in increased rate burdens which would fall principally on them.” The Asians were “upset” because the envisaged change would “… cause even more burden among the Asians rather than the Africans.” The Asians also believed that the creation of the Board would result in the government bestowing more responsibility for running the town on the Europeans despite the fact that Asian investments in the town were more than that of any other group, including the Europeans. They therefore did not want the Board to be created because it would lead to a loss of control over the affairs of the town.
Yet, in spite of these objections, the government decided to move ahead and create the Board to the run the town. This was the Kisumu Municipal Board, established in 1940. During this time, the Board was placed under the local District Commissioner, and its offices were located at the current Tivoli Center. But, gradually, the Municipal Board offices proved inadequate. There was a need for bigger spaces to accommodate the expanding Board and its responsibilities. The officials running the Board thus decided to look for funds to construct a bigger office befitting the growing status of Kisumu.
Supported by the Nyanza Province Marketing Board (NPMB), Kisumu officials sourced for funds. The funds increased. It was these funds, primarily from the NPMB, that enabled the town to lay the grounds for constructing a new administrative building. The building of the Kisumu Municipal Hall started in 1956. Most of the laborers were African. A year later, the building was completed.
The Municipal Hall, which is located in the Civil Square on Uhuru Road, houses many offices including the municipality itself, the Law courts, the district office, and the Agricultural Development Corporations. Because of the location of these many government offices, the area where the Municipal Hall is situated is known as Civil Square. In 1956, the first floor of the building was opened to the public, and on July 11, 1957, the building was officially commissioned by Governor Sir Evelyn Baring.
In 1960, Kisumu was given the status of a Municipal Council and with that, Kisumu was able to elect its first mayor. The first Mayor of Kisumu was Councilor Alderman S. Everett. There have been many mayors in Kisumu since that time. Councilor Everett served as mayor in 1960-61. Mathias P. Ondiek became the next mayor, serving from 1961 to 1965. Coincidentally, Ondiek was the first African mayor in Kenya. From 1965 to 1968, Grace Onyango became mayor, and, as already mentioned, was the first female mayor in Kenya. From 1968 to 1969, S. Odoyo was mayor. Thereafter, J. Omino was mayor (1969-72), followed by W.G. Okalo (1972-74) and then G.H. Olila (1974-78).
From 1978 to 1980, the government replaced the council with a commission claiming that that the councilors had misbehaved. The councilors and the mayor were sent home and a commission was appointed by the government to run the municipality. The commission which ran the town from 1978 to 1980 was known as Kisumu Municipal Commission, and was chaired by Vincent Arap Too.
In 1980, the Kisumu Municipal Commission gave way to a new council and a new mayor. The new mayor of Kisumu from 1980 to 1983 was E.O Gumbe. From 1883 to 85, N.D. Omollo served as mayor. But, again, there were problems in the council, and another Commission was appointed to run the municipality. Onyango Ayodo thus became Chairman of the Commission running the municipality. Onyango Ayodo was Chairman of the Commission from 1988 to 1991. Oselu Nyalik then became chair of the commission in 1992. The situation stabilized and a new council with a new mayor emerged to run the municipality. The new mayor was Akinyi Oile. Oile served as mayor from 1993 to 1998. After Akinyi Oile, there was a new mayor, and this was Ogendo Ponge. Ponge began serving as mayor in 1998. Thereafter, Shakeel Shabir became mayor of Kisumu in 2000. The election of Shakeel Shabir as Mayor of Kisumu was another first in the history of Kenya because he was the first Asian to be elected mayor in Kenya. Kisumu has therefore struck a number of firsts in Kenyan history–the first African mayor; the first female mayor; and the first Asian mayor.
During the last two decades, there have been major developments in the status and history of Kisumu. First, on December 13–23, 2001, Kisumu held its first Centennial Celebration. During the celebrations, Kisumu was officially declared a city. This was a monumental change in the status of Kisumu. From a small railway terminus, it had now become a city. Many people were happy with the news that their town was officially a city.
The second major development was the promulgation of a the new Constitution in Kenya. The new constitution led to the creating of county governments headed by governors and secretaries in charge of various departments in county governments. The county government appoints managers and places them in charge of towns and cities. Thus, after the passage of the new constitution, the various county councils were disbanded and replaced with council administrations headed by managers who now became in charge of the council affairs. This change was the same for other towns and cities in Kenya. Consequently, the head of Kisumu City Council is not a mayor as before, but, rather, a manager. It is headed by a manager, and all the affairs concerning the city are under the manager and his officials. Thus, since the promulgation of the new constitution of Kenya, the management of Kisumu City Council has changed.
Today Kisumu Municipal Hall has officially come to be known as the Kisumu City Hall, and the role of the mayor has been taken over by the City Manager. A Municipal Hall is a building where those in charge of a local government operate from. This is where you find the town committees, the mayor [now, manager], the councilors [now officials], and others. There are several committees in the municipality dealing with areas aspects of life within the municipality. These include: Health Committee, Housing/Town Planning Committee, Works Committee, General Purpose Committee, Trade Committee, African Affairs Committee, and Finance Committee, among others. Located within the building are departments as well that help local citizens with their problems, to register to vote, or process payments that are needed to run the local government. The Municipal Hall is where local officials speak to the public about everyday issues concerning their city, among others.
There are other Municipal and City Halls in the world that are very similar to Kisumu City Hall. For example, the Cleveland City Hall, is located on Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Just like the Kisumu Municipal Hall, the Cleveland City Hall helps local citizens to register to vote, request marriage certificates, and deal with their problems. This is also a place where the Mayor speaks to people about local issues.
A City Hall is an essential part of a city government. Kisumu City Hall is therefore an important building in running Kisumu. The City Hall role in Kisumu contributes to the social, economical, and political experiences of the people of Kisumu City. Socially the Kisumu City Hall has changed the way residents of Kisumu think when it comes to social aspects, such as electing a woman mayor. Economically the City Hall has played a major role in the creation of jobs for the residents such as teachers, clerks, groundsmen, etc. Politically, the Hall has provided the residents with the chance to gain knowledge from the political parties such as the Kenya Peoples’ Union [KPU], the Kenya African National Union [KANU], the National Development Party [NDP], the Orange democratic Movement [ODM], and many others, parties that have long been associated with Kisumu.
Kisumu Municipal Hall, later Kisumu City Hall, has had a huge impact on Kisumu and its residents since it opened in 1957. Since the promulgation of the new constitution and the disbanding of the municipal/city council of Kisumu, Kisumu people have had a new opportunity to address and shortcomings or challenges from the past such as corruption and mismanagement, and strengthen areas of successes and achievements. Kisumu residents hope for the best. The future looks ever brighter.
“Kisumu Municipal Hall | Macleki,” Macleki, September 15, 2018, https://macleki.org/stories/kisumu-municipal-hall/.