Homa Bay town waking up from its long slumber
PHOTO | EVERLINE OKEWO Micro wind turbines on Remba Island in Homa Bay County. NATION MEDIA GROUP
It has its own ‘parliament,’ where everyone, including elected leaders, come to openly debate issues with the common people.
It also has an unfinished giant bus park that locals fear is turning into a very white elephant.
Welcome to Homa Bay town, where the warm lake breeze meets cool winds from Homa Hills, and where vultures and Marabou storks are well fed from heaps of leftover fish by the lakeside, commonly known as ‘mgongo wazi’.
The cool breeze unleashes a lease of freshness in a calm afternoon in the many resorts dotting the beaches.
Homa Bay is a bay and a town on the south shore of Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria. The town lies near Homa Hill (Got Marahuma or God Uma in Luo language).
A drive into Homa Bay from Rongo reveals construction boom in the town, ranging from private developers to the county government projects.
The new bus terminus, whose construction has stalled and is said to be the biggest in the region, is the talk of the town. Residents are not sure if it will ever be completed.
There is a conflict between the county and national government on who should foot the bill. Its construction has left hundreds of traders displaced.
At the junction near the town’s biggest supermarket, boda boda motorcyclists line up ready for customers who buy fried fish, vegetables and fruits from the main market and those from the supermarket.
Of interest and optimism on county government is the current bid to Tarmac the town’s feeder road linking the post office to University of Nairobi’s extra mural learning centre.
Social gatherings are common in the town with, Posta ‘bunge’ grounds hosting a ‘parliament session’ daily where current affairs are discussed.
This is one place local and national political figures identify with in their down-to-earth pretence during campaign periods, only to vanish after victory or defeat.
The town was recently treated to drama by Gor Mahia FC fans on their way to Awendo when they marched on streets with some tipsy ones peeing publicly on the road in full glare of astonished motorists. Residents have become used to such actions, especially during political rallies, though this one went a bit too far.
The town is the mother of many other towns in South Nyanza such as Rongo, Mbita, Migori and Oyugis but has been in slumber as far as development is concerned though things are changing since the coming of devolution.
Being the county’s administrative capital, growth in the hospitality industry has witnessed the emergence of better hotels such as Twin Towers and the Tourist Hotel.
Workshops of top organisations and NGOs are usually held here. Locals are upbeat that more is in the offing with ‘Jamawego’s’ grand programmes. ‘Jamawego’ is the nickname for governor Cyprian Awiti and it means ‘the great one from Mawego’.
A glimpse of the town’s daytime activities is a fraction of what Homa Bay town offers after sunset. During night, the town’s many joints awaken with live performances of ohangla and benga music.
Twilight girls dot these joints to offer their ‘much needed’ services and their number has never stopped swelling.
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- A glimpse of the town’s daytime activities is a fraction of what Homa Bay town offers after sunset. During night, the town’s many joints awaken with live performances of ohangla and benga music.
Overview of Homa Bay County
Homa Bay is located in the former Nyanza Province, along the south shore of Lake Victoria’s Winam Gulf.
Homa Bay County, Kenya
The county covers an area of 3,183.3 sq km with a population of about 963,794 people. It is located about 420km from Nairobi.
Homa Bay borders five counties; Migori to the south, Kisii and Nyamira to the east, and Kericho and Kisumu to the north east. The county also borders Lake Victoria to the north and west.
The county was originally known as Chich Owuno (Onuno’s market) but it was renamed to Homa Bay by colonialists in 1925 because it was overlooking the then Huma Hills in Karachuonyo.
The whitemen pronounced Huma as ‘Homa’ and the residents adopted the name Homa Bay.
Homa Bay County Government
Homa Bay County constitutes eight constituencies: Mbita, Ndhiwa, Homabay Town, Rangwe, Karachuonyo, Kabondo, Kasipul and Suba. The county’s top leaders are Cyprian Awiti (Governor), Joseph Otieno (County Commissioner), Otieno Kajwang (Senator) and Gladys Nyasuna (Women Representative).
Other top leaders in Homa Bay County include Millie Odhiambo (MP-Mbita) Aghostinho Neto (MP-Ndhiwa), George Kaluma (MP-Homabay Town), Geroge Ogalo (MP-Rangwe), James Rege (MP-Karachuonyo), Silvance Onyango (MP-Kabondo), Joseph Magwanga (MP-Kasipul) and John Mbadi (MP-Suba).
People of Homa Bay County
Homa Bay County has a population of 963,794 (male – 48% and female – 52%), according to the 2009 National Census. The Luo and Abasuba people are the dominant communities in Homa Bay, making at least 95% of the county’s population.The Luo community speak in Dholuo language. Abasuba speak in Suba language, although many Subas speak in Dholuo language due to their interaction with the Luo people.
Because of proximity to Lake Victoria, the Luo and Abasuba are primarily fishermen and small-scale farmers growing maize, sugar cane, millet, potatoes and vegetables. The fish caught in the lake is consumed locally with the surplus being sold in the neighbouring towns. Some fish from the lake is also exported to international markets of Europe and other countries.
Other communities such as Kisii, Teso, Banyore, Bukusu and Samia are also present in Homa Bay County. These groups of people are in the county as tenant fishermen or businesspeople.
Religion and Traditional Culture
The majority of people here are Christians. There is a small population of Muslims especially in the urban centres. However, many rural residents still adhere to their traditional cultural customs such as the belief in a god called Jwok – the creator of heaven and earth – and the culture of wife inheritance.
Traditionally Luos did not circumcise their males as an initiation rite. Instead, boys used to have their lower front teeth removed. But modern culture has diminished some of these practices and male circumcision has taken root among the Luos, which is also seen as a means to curb the spread of HIV and Aids. The custom of wife inheritance, which allows a man’s relatives to inherit his wife in case of his death has also faded over time.
The Luo people have a rich music heritage and are renowned for their benga music – an entertaining style in which songs in English, Swahili or Dholuo are played alongside an eight-string lyre called nyatiti.
Located 105km south of Kisumu and about 420km south-west of Nairobi, Homa Bay town is the headquarters of Homa Bay County. Homa Bay has a thriving fish market, but the recent water hyacinth menace has significantly reduced the population of fish in Lake Victoria. The town is a good base for trips to Rusinga Island, Ruma National Park and Simbi Nyaima Lake.
Other nearby urban centres in Homa Bay include Awendo, Mbita Point and Sindo.
Climate and Weather
Homa Bay County has semi-arid climatic conditions with daily temperatures ranging between 26°C during the coldest months (April and November) and 34°C during the hottest months (January to March). The county receives between 250mm and 1200mm of rainfall annually, with the average annual rainfall estimated at 1,100mm. It has two rainy seasons; March-April-May (long rains) and September to November (short rains).
Fishing and agriculture are the main economic activities in Homa Bay County. They produce some of the best fish in the world. Fishing is practised mainly by people living near the shores of Lake Victoria. Fish caught in the lake include Tilapia and Nile Perch, which is consumed locally, sold to other towns such as Kisumu and Nairobi and exported worldwide. Europe is a major consumer of Nile Perch from Lake Victoria.
Areas around Kasipul Kabondo, Rangwe and Ndhiwa are very fertile; producing bounty harvests of cotton, maize, sugar cane, cassava, banana, pineapples, sorghum, millet, sunflower, sorghum, ground nuts and potatoes. Sugar cane grown in the county is crushed at the Sony Sugar factory in Awendo, and construction is currently under way for a sugar factory in Ndhiwa. Tourism is also a major income-earner for Homa Bay, with tourist attraction sites such as Ruma National Park and Mfangano Island drawing thousands of visitors to the county.
Homa Bay County has several healthcare facilities serving its residents. Notable hospitals include Homa Bay District Hospital, Mbita District Hospital and Karachuonyo, Rangwe and Ndhiwa sub-district hospitals.
There are 1000 primary schools and 235 secondary schools in Homa Bay County, serving 283,162 pupils and 31,317 students respectively. The county’s Teacher to Pupil Ratio is 1:45 for public primary schools and 1:27 for public high schools.
Some of the top high schools in Homa Bay County include Orero Boys Secondary School, Homa Bay High School, Mbita High School, Agoro Sare High School, Asumbi Girls High School and Ober Secondary School.
Institutions of higher learning in Homa Bay include Maseno University (Homa Bay Town Campus), Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC-Homa Bay) and several polytechnics and commercial colleges.
Some of the famous people in Homa Bay County include Barack Obama Snr. and Tom Mboya. Barack Obama Snr., father to the 44th and current President of the United States of America, has roots in Kogelo Village of Homa Bay County. Tom Mboya was a shrewd politician and the Minister of Economic Planning and Development during the Kenyatta government. He was widely seen as a possible successor to President Kenyatta until his assassination on 5 July 1969 in Nairobi.
Places of Interest
Tourist attractions in Homa Bay County include Ruma National Park, Kanjera Archaeological Site, Simbi Nyaima Lake and Mfangano and Rusinga islands.
Ruma National Park is located in Lambwe Valley, close to the shores of Lake Victoria. The park covers an area of 120 sq km and is home to a huge population of wildlife including the roan antelope – found nowhere else in Kenya. It offers rewarding opportunities to watch wild animals and birds in their natural habitats. More than 400 species of birds have been recorded in Ruma National Park.
Located on the southern shore of the Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria, the Kanjera Archaeological Site is a popular attraction among lovers of ancient history and archaeology. Stone tools and fossils dating to around 2.5 million years have been excavated in Kanjera.
Simbi Nyaima, a volcanic crater lake in Kendu Bay, is believed to have been formed around 1680 as a result of an earthquake that was accompanied by volcanic eruption. The waters of the lake are said to have medicinal value and many people claim have been cured after bathing in the lake.
Mfangano and Rusinga islands, both set in Lake Victoria offer excellent sites for hiking, fishing, walking safaris and bird watching. Rusinga Island is the home and burial site of the late former cabinet minister Tom Mboya, who was assassinated in 1969.
Travelling to Homa Bay County
Homa Bay County is accessible by road from Nairobi through Kisumu, a 420km journey, and from Kampala in Uganda through the 400km Kisumu-Jinja-Kampala road. Homa Bay is also accessible by lake through Bukoba, Mbita Point, Jinja and Musoma. An airstrip located 5km south-east of Homa Bay town mainly serves tourists travelling from Nairobi, Maasai Mara and other tourist attraction sites to Homa Bay.
Top places to stay include Homa Bay Tourist Hotel, Bay Lodge, Ruma Tourist Lodge and Little Nile Guest House. Guest houses and budget lodgings can also be found in the county’s major urban centres.
Homa Bay County is served by several commercial banks including Kenya Commercial Bank, Co-operative Bank, Equity Bank and Post Bank. Safaricom M-Pesa services are readily available in most parts of the county.
Homa Bay town has several supermarkets and retail shops offering as a range of products including mobile phones, electronics and foodstuffs. Among them are Shivling and Homabay supermarkets. There are curio shops in many parts of the county, mainly near tourist attractions such as Ruma National Park and Mfangano and Rusinga islands. These shops sell local items such as mats, masks, Kangas and batik paintings among other artefacts.