President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to arrive in Kisumu, his first visit after what Raila Odinga and his supporters have called “The Handshake”.

The visit by President Uhuru comes at a time when the economy of the country is not at a great state but the two leaders enjoys a goodwill from the region which is known to religiously support opposition leader, Raila Odinga.

The region has historically been marginalised economically and starved off by successive governments because of religiously being an opposition zone. Former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Raila Odinga has now indicated that he is not interested in having the region permanently in the opposition while others benefit from government funding.

While the President is greatly welcome to the region and apart from the obvious question of Migingo Island, there are issues which the government needs to highlight and address as a matter of national priority.

HIV-AIDs, Malaria and Sick Economy

While the region boast of great potential as it is located next to one of the world’s greatest fresh water lake, the economy of greater Nyanza and Western Kenya is still dependent on the various NGOs which focus on tropical diseases like Malaria and HIV-AIDS.

A common joke in the region is that if KEMRI-CDC would close, the Kisumu economy would greatly collapse.

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KEMRI -CDC is one of the most prominent US and Kenyan government funded initiative to control Malaria, HIV and other diseases in the country. It is one of the best paying institutions in the Nyanza region while still headquartered in Nairobi.

While its importance to the region cannot be underrated, absolute dependence on it with no creation of other economic activities beyond those around disease misery is greatly affecting the region.

According to this The East African report, the average life expectancy in Homa Bay, Siaya and Kisumu is around 40.4 years which is 16 years shorter than 56 years for the country. For men, it’s believed to be around 35 or so years. That’s a catastrophe which needs to be urgently addressed.

Agriculture

The Nyanza region has not fared better even on agriculture. It’s not uncommon to see people scrambling for vegetables, maize and eggs imported from elsewhere while the region is home to the great fresh water body, Lake Victoria. Young men and women have moved closer to market centres and towns to engage in prostitution and boda boda businesses while ignoring agriculture.

With the advent of of Boda Boda, the region is grappling with the effects of a new killer disease, pneumonia. Many of the deaths in parts of Nyanza and Western Kenya are now due to Pneumonia because people are riding the motorbikes without protective clothing.

Apart from dairy farming, the region was also known for cotton, horticulture, sugar cane and maize farming. All these economies have died. There were days when Gikomba market in Nairobi would depend on vegetables from Ahero and nearby areas. This is not anymore as others took up the farming and did it better than the region.

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Now the region imports eggs from Uganda while finding maize, milk and vegetables from Rift Valley. During electioneering periods, the suppliers in Rift Valley punish the region by reducing the supply or completely turning it off.

The once vibrant cotton farming is dead together with Kisumu Cotton Mills (KICOMI) and a host of cotton collection centres in areas like Sondu, Ahero and beyond. The industry is completely dead because of the lack of support from the government together with policies which were used to target the economic lifeline of people in the area and make sure that they are starved off resources.

Another industry worth waking up is the rice farming. Ahero Irrigation Scheme was once the largest in the country. It did far much better than Mwea.

According to Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), 80 per cent of rice farming in Kenya is through irrigation while the remaining 20% if through rain-fed agriculture. The country has a need of 300,000 metric tonnes while the country only produces between 45,000 to 80,000 metric tonnes. The growth in consumption of rice is at 12% annually while that of Maize and Wheat stand at 1% and 4% respectively.

The opportunities in rice farming are unlimited and Ahero, Ndhiwa areas are well positioned to cover the national shortage if the government policies would be well placed. Reliance on cheap Indian, Pakistani and Chinese imports is greatly affecting the country economically.

Sugar Cane

One of the most neglected economic activities is sugar cane farming. This is the only taxed raw-material in the country with government charges making sure that farmers don’t earn enough to sustain the activities.

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Factories in the regions have been run down and sugar barons have taken over the importation and milling of sugar.

Before Evans Kidero’s stint at Mumias, sugar factories didn’t know that they could import sugar from Brazil and package them with local factories’ branding. Kidero changed all that when he consistently cooked Mumias Sugar books while also importing sugar from Brazil and packaging it like Mumias. The Mumias brand became powerful without consumers knowing that the sugar was being imported through the facilitation of barons sitting at the manaement and boards of the sugar companies.

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7 years ago I used to grow sugar cane, not that I stopped, and the price per tonne was Ksh 8,000 to 9,000 for raw sugar delivered to the millers. Now it is sea-sawing at between Ksh 1,900 and Ksh 3,500. It’s so low and pathetic many farmers don’t see the reason for growing sugar cane anymore.

In the 1980s and 1990s, it was great to see Miwani, Muhoroni and Chemelil sugar factories perform so well. The schools based around the factories performed better and had more affluent families and students frequenting them while in Miwani, the small clinic there treated more advanced diseases than even the Nyanza Provincial Hospital in Kisumu.

The road from Miwani Township to Kisumu was well maintained and the area’s economy thrived. Now it’s like a ghost town with no lights and evidence of neglect and poverty all through. The story of the fall of Miwani should be told further as it greatly affected the region.

The above state of affairs cannot be solely blamed on national leadership as the residents have consistently elected leaders who don’t know a thing about sugar cane growing. Former Nyando MP Fred Outa and current Muhoroni MP Onyango K’Oyoo have never grown sugar cane. They neither know what cane poaching nor care to understand what ails the sector. But while Outa got two terms as Nyando MP and is now Senator for Kisumu County, Onyango K’Oyoo got his second term as Muhoroni MP.

These leaders will never champion issues which uplift the welfare of their constituents. Muhoroni MP Onyango K’Oyoo doesn’t even have a house in Muhoroni or anywhere in Kisumu County. His only home is in Nairobi.

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Kisumu has not even attempted to exploit the Lake Victoria resource in any way. You will still find people from the region go hungry despite the presence of the lake and rivers like Yala, Miriu and Nyando.

Lake Victoria as a transport platform has not been exploited by Kenyans while if you venture to the Tanzania side, there are frequent boats to Busisi, Bukoba, Chato, Kisaho and Muleba areas.

The Lake has a capacity to serve as a tourist attraction with activities like professional fresh water fishing and lake sports while the many islands should not serve as cheap sex estates but residents should be moved and proper tourists facilities which benefit the residents of the region set up.

Over-reliance on road while ignoring or totally being ignorant to the potential of the lake has affected quality of roads. It is easy, convenient and safer to transport massive amounts of cargo through the lake than on the roads.

Despite the above, the region is still fighting the menace of drug and alcohol addiction among the young men and women with importation of cheap liquor from Uganda causing a serious problem. It’s not rare to see young men wasted during the day and unable to meaningfully engage in economic activities.

The imports which are done with the assistance of Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), KeBS and security officials is causing a great damage to the livelihoods of the young people in the region.

Even with the above challenges, the future looks great. The region has reported great oil deposits which have not been exploited. This can be witnessed with the presence of Tullow Oil in the region even with the recent reports by Business Daily that Kisumu is home to more than 800 million barrels of oil.

President Uhuru and former PM Raila must find it a priority to address these issues instead of shallow, empty and unhelpful politicking while our people starve to death like dogs.

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