Road to Africities 9: The big interview with…Prof. Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Governor of Kisumu County (Kenya): “We may have to come up with a common understanding at the continental level on how to restructure our cities “

In the run-up to the Africities 9 summit scheduled for 17 to 21 May 2022 in Kisumu (Kenya), under the theme: “The contribution of African intermediary cities to the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063”, UCLG Africa is conducting a serie of interviews with mayors of intermediary cities on the continent. For this second issue our guest is the Honorable Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Governor of Kisumu (Kenya). He reveals the ambition of his city to improve its green coverage, the urgency for Local Governments of the continent to agree their violins to face the problems related to governance in Africa. The host city of Africities also wishes that during the 5 days of the Summit, Kisumu is a connected city with free Wi-Fi access. In advance, Governor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o welcomes participants to Kisumu, “the city of infinite possibilities”.

Watch the video or read the interview.

Can you introduce your city?

Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya, sitting almost on the Equator, to the West of Nairobi, on Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world. Therefore, the fishing industry is one of the most important industries in the Kisumu County, of which I am the Governor. Kisumu is also known for its sporting population, with young people who excel in soccer, hockey and other games, and who have won several medals in international and African matches. As we sit here today, Kisumu is going to hold the 9th edition of the Africities Summit, as an intermediary city. Indeed it is, because the population has been growing and we do believe that by the year 2050, the population of Kisumu may be easily 3 million. One of the reasons why the population is growing very fast is because the economy is also growing. The county has a strong agricultural sector which supplies the city with agricultural commodities, both for consumption and for export to other parts of East Africa. We are therefore talking about a very dynamic, lively and entertaining city. We have a lot of entertainment sports in the county, on the lake, and anybody who comes to Kisumu will come to a city that is typical of cities which sit on great sizes of water resources.

In 2010, Kenya had a new constitution which restructured the system of government. We say that we have 48 governments in Kenya, one national and 47 counties, separate but interdependent. Kisumu happens to be one of those default systems of government along other 13 counties around Lake Victoria. So we have formed an economic and cultural community called the Lake Region Economic Block to synergize our development across these 14 counties, because we realize that we trade with each other and have close communication. We are also closely related to neighboring countries through Lake Victoria: at least four other counties around Lake Victoria are borders touching Uganda or Tanzania. Therefore, coming together in the Lake Region Economic Bloc, with headquarters in Kisumu, provides us with the potential for economic integration and economic growth in the future. Kisumu is definitely a gateway to a large market. It is the epicenter for a lot of activities. Most people in the region come here to meet, have conferences, or invest in housing and other businesses, so Kisumu really acts more or less as the capital of the Lake Region Economic Bloc.

Intermediate cities occupy a strategic place in Africa’s urbanization. By 2050, the majority of new urban dwellers will settle in cities of less than 500,000 inhabitants. How is your municipality preparing for this change? 

One of the ways we are preparing for this change is by having a local, detailed geophysical and special plan of the city, to know exactly where people live, what kind of natural resources and infrastructure we have, and what kind of problems we have in terms of use of land and environmental control, because environment is a very important issue. During the COVID pandemic, it was realized that we need to revive urban farming because access to market beyond Kisumu became difficult, but people had to be fed. You know, human beings are very innovative. All of a sudden, we saw corn gardening in the city. It provided people with meals daily, and corn gardening has been proven to be a very effective way of producing food. We also found during this pandemic, that when there are lockdowns in the city and people can’t travel to the central business district to have access to malls and other facilities, they need to have them in their neighborhood. Following our special geophysical plan for future urban planning, which we have already initiated today, the neighborhood must be integrated in this planning, and not just in terms of apartments, but also in terms of what people need on a day-to-day basis: markets, playgrounds, health facilities… This must be integrated in planning so that agglomeration of settlement within the city can actually be as self-sufficient as possible.

We can’t do this without technology. We need it to collect our revenue, for example. We must have internet to collect data. Therefore, the old way of doing things by pen and paper, which is a danger for increasing non-accountability of fund revenues, for example, is becoming a thing of the past. We intend, during the Africities Summit, to make Kisumu a free Wi-Fi city, where you can access to Wi-Fi and call people as well as get informed, which is much easier than calling someone in a phone booth.

Do you think that cities like yours receive enough attention from public policies? 

That is one of the reasons we have the Committee of Urban Affairs and Urban Development in the Council of Governors. It’s a very important Committee because we do realize that, in the Constitution, we have to produce a devolved government although we have an Urban Areas and Cities Act, which deals specifically with city problems. The government has not internalized the fact that planning for cities and financing cities development is a very important issue in counties like ours. We must also plan for the growth of small towns, because they are growing exponentially into the future. Therefore, planning for urban development and financing it, giving urban areas resources to look after their need, is something we must cater for, especially in the Division of Revenue Bill used in the Constitution to divide revenue between the national government and the county government.

Our Committee has so far been dependent mainly on money from the World Bank for urban development. We cannot continue to forever depend on donor-funded projects in urban areas; it must be domain that is available in the treasury dispatched to counties under the Division of Revenue Bill.

The Africities 9 Summit will be crucial for intermediary cities…

During the Summit, it will be important for us to compare notes with other cities in Africa, to find answers to the following questions: what is the mode of financing of urban areas in other parts of Africa? How do they envisage dealing with emerging problems of growing and exponentially growing urban areas? Do we, in Kenya, have any lessons that we want to share with others? What lessons do others have to share with us? The answers will help Africa develop a common pool of knowledge and ideas on how to deal with urban development and with the problems that the urban areas face. I think it is very important because we may find that what happens in Burkina Faso may be relevant to what happens in Kenya.

The Africities 9 Summit Scheduled from 17 to 21 May 2022 in Kisumu (Kenya) places intermediary cities at the heart of the debate, with the theme: “The contribution of African intermediate cities to the United Nations Agenda 2030 and the African Union Agenda 2063”.  What are your expectations for this meeting which brings together local authorities as well as financial institutions, civil society organizations and development partners at the continental and international levels?  

My expectation is that we may have to come up with a common understanding at the continental level on how to restructure our cities and how to deal with problems of governance in Africa as a whole. In certain countries, local governments enjoy tremendous power and resources from their national government, whereby you may find a country where 40% of the national budget is dedicated to local governments, either in terms of states or provinces. For example, Nigeria is a federal system that has states. South Africa has provinces, but they do not have as much political power as the states of Nigeria. Here in Kenya, we have counties, which is something between what provinces are in South Africa and what states are in Nigeria. We must, during the Summit, ask ourselves, what differences does this make, if you have one model of local government, rather than the other? Is there one that works better in the African situation? Or should we expect a multiplicity of systems precisely depending on the history of a country? Does this multiplicity of systems still provide a future for citizens living in intermediary cities? Especially as they quickly become metropolises, because they are not going to remain intermediary cities forever. That transition from being intermediary to being a metropolis must be very carefully managed and resourced if we want to avoid some of the problems that Africa’s metropolises have, like urban congestion and lack of proper structures of habitation. When you want to build a metro, the built environment is so dense that it costs you an arm and a leg to build! I always said that we should avoid catching the Mumbai flu: when Mumbai wanted to build a metro, they found it very difficult. While the city had grown over time, the need for a metro was not envisaged and it became a very big problem, whereas Mexico City, which is very big and has a huge population, did not have many difficulties building a metro underground. We need to get these lessons and find out if there are certain things we may not do today but must envisage doing them later as these cities grow, for cheaper because we precisely planned ahead of time.

The global challenge of climate change can only be met through the territorialization of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). How is your municipality dealing with the consequences of climate change in the daily lives of your populations?  

It is not easy, because we never envisaged the effects of climate change. Nobody knew, so nobody can pretend that we have the answers to that question, but we must confront the problem. We are improvising where we can; taking drastic measures to prevent its consequence in the future if we have to.  I think the most important thing is to understand, what is this animal called climate change? How does it affect us? Can we avoid climate change, or can we mitigate it because we cannot avoid it? At the moment, we can definitely avoid it, because we know its causes. One of them is carbon emissions. We can start reducing carbon emissions in our own city, Kisumu, where motorbikes are the most popular form of transport, and perhaps the biggest polluters. We had two choices, either ban motorbike transportation, which we couldn’t,  or make it safe and free from carbon emission, which we are doing by gradually turning our petroleum powered motorbikes into electricity powered ones, because electricity is clean energy.

Secondly, we must improve the green coverage in our city. The first thing we did when we came into local government was to rehabilitate all our parks and protect them from encroachment and destruction, at a time when the reduction of green spaces in Kisumu was alarming. Thirdly, climate change recently led to the rise of the level of the lake we live next to and that was very detrimental to economic activities on the lakefront. Homes, schools and hotels were destroyed, and there was a tremendous loss of development around the lakefront. We must protect riparian land now. We should make sure that, while we are fighting carbon emissions, we are also protecting water resources, so that we can manage the rise of water levels of the rivers and lakes, in the way in which we have managed the waterfront in good time.

How can intermediate cities like yours contribute to national wealth creation, local economic development and local democracy?  

As I told you, Kenya is composed of 48 governments, one national and 47 counties, which means that the counties really are where people live. A Kenyan lives somewhere in a county, a devolved unit. A Kenyan does business and creates wealth somewhere in a county, the total sum of wealth creation of all these counties is what comes to be the national GDP or the Gross National Product, because productive activities and wealth creation happens in these counties. Now, they may happen because national government itself stimulates investment in these counties, therefore, the initial capital that initiates development comes from the treasury that is still developing Kenyan’s capital, but it may also happen that this wealth creation is initiated by the counties themselves, through their own unique development programs and policies.

If Kenya’s GDP is going to grow exponentially, then the two levels of government, which are interdependent, must commit to wealth creation, both at the local and national level. Kisumu County is finding in areas in which the national government has the resources, even more needed resources to undertake development, like what they did at the port, which we ourselves cannot do. That is important to the Kenyan economy, as well as the county’s economy.

The wealth created at the port could easily be counted as part of the GDP of the county but it is really the GDP of the nation. Now, I will tell you that when we create a good environment for investment both by the private and the public sector, it will add towards wealth creation within the county and part of its GDP. This is taken into account by the National Statistical Authority when it calculates the GDP’s of counties. A correlation has been found between good economic policies, better systems of accountability in counties and their rate of GDP growth. We distinguish the Gross Domestic Product growth of the counties from the GDP of the nation as whole. If we do not have policies and regulations that are conducive to investment, of course we shall not grow rapidly. Now, one of the areas in which we must have good policies is the agricultural sector, because it’s the biggest part of our economy. We are capable of producing low volume, high price agricultural commodities, like spices. They are low volume because you can grow them in a very small piece of land, they do not require as much intensive labor as the crops that require large pieces of land, but they feature fantastic good prices in the market. So we must begin retooling ourselves in the agricultural sector in Kisumu County, and create a sector that produces low volume, high price commodities, because an agricultural sector that depends entirely on high volume, low price commodities sometimes do not do very well in the competitive market internationally:  the cost of transportation is rather high. Imagine exporting maize rather than exporting spices to Saudi Arabia, you will pay more for they are lifting them there, so you would prefer to use shipping, which takes a longer time, when you can put spices in a plane that will enter Saudi Arabia within no time and get you a lot of money, so we must begin thinking of a new way of growing our GDP in the county.

Intermediate cities play an important role in rapid urbanization in developing countries, balancing territories, providing services to surrounding populations, creating jobs and generating income, and mitigating rural migration, rather than large cities. Can you share with us your city’s experience on these aspects?  

Sometime ago, before infrastructure was improved in Kenya, people from the region went to work in Mombasa or Nairobi for the Kenya Railways and Harbours Corporation. They worked on railways, in the port of Mombasa, the Thika plantations… Policemen and teachers were also employed in big urban centers like Nairobi. There was a big export of labor from our region, and they stayed for long, often not even coming back for Christmas. They finally came back later when they retired, which means whatever they have earned was invested in the cities where they worked. Lately, with devolution, there has been the opposite movement of human resources. This has lead to other people who are not necessarily residents of Kisumu County coming to invest in it. We have seen an increased backflow of skills and expertise to the County. It is very interesting because we might assume that people who are coming back might create unemployment, yet they actually come back because they have money to invest in something, so they actually increase employment. More people are staying in the rural areas of Kisumu because they have to produce food for the new comers in the city, which is an expanding market for rural commodities from the countryside.

Middle class people leave Nairobi and come back to Kisumu to build houses. A single person needs a watchman, a cook and a domestic cleaner. Those are three workers for one house. Given the numbers of houses being built in some areas, the amount of employment created is not small.

What is your message of invitation to the participants of the 9th Africities Summit? 

Welcome to Kisumu, the city of limitless opportunities, as we begin our journey for Africa’s renaissance and for intermediary cities which will become the metropolises of Africa in the next 20 years.