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Kisumu City, Kenya
City and County of Kisumu
Clockwise from top: Central business district, Lake Victoria, Jomo Kenyatta Sports Ground.
Clockwise from top: Central business district, Lake Victoria, Jomo Kenyatta Sports Ground.
Flag of Kisumu City, Kenya
"Lakeside City", "Kisumo","Kisumu Dala"
CountyKisumu County
 • BodyKisumu County
 • LegislatureCounty Assembly
 • GovernorProf. Anyang' Nyong'o
 • Deputy GovernorDr. Mathews Owili
1,131 m (3,711 ft)
Demonym(s)Jo Kisumo (Dholuo)
Time zoneUTC+3 (EAT)
Area code(s)057
HDI (2017)0.653[2]
GDP (2018)3.9 billion USD[3]

Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya after Nairobi and Mombasa, and the second largest city, after Kampala, Uganda, in the Lake Victoria Basin. The city is the headquarters of the Lake Region Economic Bloc, which is a conglomeration of 14 counties in Western Kenya. In 2006, the UN Habitat designated Kisumu City as the first United Nations Millennium City in the world. It is the largest and principal city of Western Kenya, and the most important inland port in the Lake Victoria circuit. Kisumu is famous for being the home town of Barack Hussein Obama Sr, the father to the 44th president of the United States, Barack H. Obama.[4]

Kisumu City as viewed from a nearby Hill

Kisumu serves as the capital city of Kisumu County, Kenya and has a population of 397,957 as per the Kenyan 2019 census[5] (the rural population of Kisumu county was 714, 668 during the same census [6] indicating that the city comprises majority of the urban residents in the county which has a total population 1,155,574[7]). Kisumu is the immediate former capital of Nyanza Province, the headquarters of Kisumu County an important link in the trade route between Lake Victoria and Mombasa because of its water and rail connections. It is also the chief terminus for the agricultural produce of Nyanza and Western provinces.[8] It is the largest and most important city in the Western Kenya. Kisumu serves as a trading and transportation hub for the Great Lakes region in western Kenya. Kisumu International Airport has regular flights to Nairobi and other neighboring cities such as Mombasa, Mwanza, and Kigali. It is the second most important city after Kampala in the greater Lake Victoria basin and according to the United Nations it is now recognized as a key city and a ‘Millennium City’ – the first of its kind in the world and also in East Africa.[9].

It is officially known as Kisumu City (and formerly Port Florence). Kisumu port was founded in 1901 as the main inland terminal of the Uganda Railway named "Port Florence". Although trade stagnated in the 1980s and 1990s, it is again growing around oil exports.[10]

Kisumu literally means a place of barter trade "sumo". The city has "Friendship" status with Cheltenham, United Kingdom and "sister city" status with Roanoke, Virginia and Boulder, Colorado, United States. It sits at an elevation of 1,131 m (3,711 ft). Kisumu is about 320 kilometers (200 miles) north west of Nairobi and its located at the shores of Lake Victoria. It lies at the northeastern edge of the Winam Gulf, a long, shallow arm that protrudes from the main body of Lake Victoria.[11] Kisumu is set 24 kilometers (15 miles) south of the Equator and has moderate temperatures because of its elevation of 1130 meters above sea level. Just four hours away by car is the massive Kenya National Game Preserve, the Masai Mara, a world-renowned safari attraction. Kisumu is a few kilometers South of the equator, so the days are always around 12 hours long and sunset is always between 1840h and 1900h.[12]The metropolitan region comprises the city and its suburbs and satellite towns of Maseno, Kondele and Ahero .[13]

Kisumu City Hall


When the Europeans first settled in the area in the late 19th century, Kisumu became a trading post – attracting the Luo people from as far as Migori and Siaya County. The Kisumu region was then occupied by the Luo community. A person going to Kisumu at that time would say, "Adhi Kisuma" to mean I'm going to trade. Derived from the word "Kisuma", the word for a trading post in Luo is "Kisumo". In Nandi "Kesumett". The current name Kisumu is an English corruption of the word "Kisumo" or "Kesumett".

An opposing theory states that Kisumu acquired its name from 'Kusuma', the Maragoli word for 'trading'. Because, before the Luo arrived in the area, the Maragoli were already trading with other people in the area like the Nandi and Maasai. Some Luo words were acquired from the Maragoli.


Local inhabitants near Kisumu, 1911

Kisumu city is believed to be one of the oldest settlements in Kenya. Historical records indicate that Kisumu has been dominated by diverse communities at different times long before Europeans arrived. The people from the Nandi, Kalenjin, Kisii, Maasai, Luo and Luhya communities converged at the tip of Lake Victoria and called the place "sumo" which literally means a place of barter trade. Each community called it different names, for instance:

  1. The Luo called it "Kisumo" meaning "a place to look for food" such that the Luo would say "I am going Kisuma" to mean "I am going to look for food".
  2. The Abaluhya called it "Abhasuma" which means "a place to borrow food" such that the luhya would say "I am going Khusuma" to mean "I am going to borrow food".
  3. The Abagusii called it "egesumu" meaning "a structure for keeping/rearing chicken". It is believed the Abagusii were in Kisumu but found Kisumu was not good for crop husbandry and agriculture.
  4. The Nandi called it "Kisumett" which means a place where food was found during times of scarcity and exchange, which cannot be attacked by Nandi and Terik irrespective of any issue.[14]
  5. Industries are centered on processing agricultural products, brewing, and textile manufacturing. Asians once constituted more than one-fourth of the population, but that segment declined after independence in 1963.

Kisumu was identified by the British explorers in early 1898 as an alternative railway terminus and port for the Uganda railway, then under construction. It was to replace Port Victoria, then an important centre on the caravan trade route, near the delta of Nzoia River. Kisumu was ideally located on the shores of Lake Victoria at the cusp of the Winam Gulf, at the end of the caravan trail from Pemba, Mombasa, Malindi and had the potential for connection to the whole of the Lake region by steamers. In July 1899, the first skeleton plan for Kisumu was prepared. This included landing places and wharves along the northern lake shore, near the present-day Airport Road. Demarcations for Government buildings and retail shops were also included in the plan.[15]

Another plan was later prepared in May 1900, when plots were allocated to a few European firms as well as to Indian traders who had travelled to Kisumu on contracts to build the Uganda Railway and had decided to settle at the expanding terminus. A later plan included a flying boat jetty (now used by the Fisheries Department). In October 1900, the 62-ton ship SS William Mackinnon was reassembled and registered in Kisumu, and made its maiden voyage to Entebbe, marking the beginning of the Lake Marine Services. The SS Winifred (1901) and the SS Sybil (1901) were later added to the fleet in 1902 and 1904, respectively. On Friday, 20 December 1901, the railway line reached the Kisumu pier, with the centre adopting a new name, Port Florence.

By February, the railway line had been opened for goods and passenger transportation. Kisumu was also privileged to host the first flight in Kenya; the current police workshop was the first hangar in Kenya. Before the jet airline era, the city was a landing point on the British flying boat passenger and mail route from Southampton to Cape Town. Kisumu also linked Port Bell to Nairobi.[16] In the meantime, it was realised that the site originally chosen for the township north of the Nyanza Gulf was unsuitable for the town's expansion, due to its flat topography and poor soils. An alternative site was therefore identified and the town's location moved to the ridge on the southern shore of the Gulf, where the town sits today. Consequently, another plan was prepared in 1902, which provided the basic layout of the new town on the southern ridge. This was followed by the construction of a number of Government buildings, notably the former Provincial Commissioner's Office (now State Lodge) and the Old Prison (now earmarked for the construction of an Anglican Cathedral).[15]

In 1903, the township boundaries were gazetted and some 12,000 acres, including water, set aside for its development. The new township reverted to its original name, Kisumu, in substitution of Port Florence. At this time, there was an 'Old Kisumu', that consisted of two rows of Stalls (Dukas) on Mumias Road, north of the Gulf. It was later demolished in the twenties when new plots became available on Odera and Ogada Streets in the present day Kisumu, hence the new area acquired the name 'New Bazaar'. Winston Churchill visited Kisumu in 1907.[17][18]

By the 1930s and 40s, the city had become a leading Kenyan centre for Commerce, Administrative and Military installations. In the 1960s the population of Asians in relation to locals was significantly higher. The town was elevated to the status of a Municipal Board in 1940 and later to a Municipal Council in 1960. In the early sixties, very little development took place in Kisumu, with an acute shortage realised in dwelling houses, shops and offices. The situation was later made worse by the influx of locals into the town following the declaration of independence in 1963.[16]

The city's growth and prosperity slowed down temporarily in 1977, as a result of the collapse of the East African Community. However, the city spurred with the reformation of the community in 1996 and with its designation as a "city." The port has been stimulated by the transformation of international business and trade, as well as the shipments of goods destined for Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Currently, Kisumu is one of the fastest growing cities in Kenya. It is thriving with rich sugar and rice irrigation industries, whose contribution to the National economy is immense due to its natural resources and as the epicentre for business in Kenya.

Kisumu panorama, viewed from Lake Victoria

Culture and Languages[edit]

English is one of two national languages of Kenya, spoken with a British accent. Most people in Kisumu are trilingual.[19] They are also fluent in the national language of Swahili and the local tongue of the Dholuo ethnic group, Kenya's third largest group to which 90% of Kisumu residents belong.[20] Due to its status, there has been a recent increase in other local ethnic groups within the city.


Kisumu features a tropical rainforest climate with no true dry season and significant rainfall year-round. January is the driest month while the month of April receives the most rainfall. The average temperature is 22.9 degrees Celsius.[21]

Climate data for Kisumu (1938–1990)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 30.6
Average low °C (°F) 23.8
Average precipitation mm (inches) 79
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 7 10 11 17 13 8 7 8 8 10 13 9 121
Source: World Meteorological Organization[22]


Kisumu has highly fertile land and variations in temperature and rainfall with two rainy seasons per year across the region provides a suitable environment for a broad range of agricultural crops. The Kisumu region has approximately 1.6 million hectares of agricultural land. However, it is estimated that only 58 percent of the land is currently used. The majority of farming in the lake basin region is subsistence driven leading to relatively low production volumes. Current crop yields are considered to be significantly lower than the potential afforded by soil and climate conditions. Current low land utilisation and yields are driven by the lack of guaranteed markets and associated support services. Like agriculture, livestock farming is currently performed primarily on a subsistence basis. Cattle are predominantly indigenous breeds with lower milk output than grade cattle.


The Kenyan part of Lake Victoria covers approximately 0.4 million hectares (4,100 square kilometres), with 550 km of lake shoreline; most of this shoreline is under-used.[23]

Points of interest[edit]

Jomo Kenyatta Sports Ground

Attractions in the city include Kibuye Market, Oile Market, the Kisumu Museum, an impala sanctuary, a bird sanctuary, Hippo Point,Shopping malls and the nearby Kit Mikaye and Ndere Island National Park. Although Kisumu has modernized over the years, it still maintains that old town feel especially on the outskirts and the culture is still very ingrained. [24]

Kisumu Night.jpg

Town Clock[edit]

On the main street of Kisumu city, Oginga Odinga Road, a tall Town Clock stands in the middle of the road. It was unveiled on 19 August 1938 by the then Governor of Kenya Sir Robert Brooke-Popham. The Town Clock was built in memory of Kassim Lakha who arrived in East Africa in 1871 and died in Kampala in 1910. It was erected by his sons Mohamed, Alibhai, Hassan and Rahimtulla Kassim, as the inscription on the Town Clock reads.[25]

Kisumu Museum[edit]

Kisumu Museum, established in 1980,[26] has a series of outdoor pavilions laid out in a formation similar to that of a Luo homestead. Some of the pavilions contain live animals. For example, one pavilion contains numerous aquaria with a wide variety of fish from Lake Victoria, along with explanatory posters. Another pavilion contains terrarium containing mambas, spitting cobras, puff adders and other venomous Kenyan snakes. Additionally, out of doors, the museum has a few additional exhibits, including a snake pit and a crocodile container.[27]

Other pavilions show weaponry, jewellery, farm tools and other artefacts made by the various peoples of the Nyanza Province. Additionally, there are exhibits of stuffed animals, birds and fish. One pavilion houses the prehistoric TARA rock art, which was removed for its own protection to the museum after it was defaced by graffiti in its original location.[28]

The museum's most important and largest exhibition is the UNESCO-sponsored Ber-gi-dala.[29] This is a full-scale recreation of a traditional Luo homestead. Ber-gi-dala consists of the home, granaries and livestock corrals of an imaginary Luo man as well as the homes of each of his three wives, and his eldest son. Through signs and taped programs in both Luo and English, the exhibition also explains the origins of the Luo people, their migration to western Kenya, traditional healing plants, and the process of establishing a new home.[30]

Dunga Beach and Wetlands[edit]

Dunga Beach and Wetland is known for its unique eco-cultural attractions due to its biodiversity and cultural rich and diverse papyrus wetland ecosystem and local community respectively. Ecofinder Kenya has established Dunga Wetland Pedagogical Centre at Dunga Beach is a grass-root led intervention whose overarching cardinal goal is empowerment of Dunga Wetland Community and improvement of livelihood security of its people. Therefore, some of the main focuses in the centre are promoting Eco-Cultural Tourism and facilitate the conservation of the Dunga Papyrus Wetland Ecosystem.[31]

Kisumu Impala Sanctuary[edit]

Kisumu is the location of the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary. During the British rule, Impala Park now sanctuary was called Connaught Parade. Measuring just 1 square kilometre (0.39 sq mi), the sanctuary is one of Kenya's smallest wildlife preserves. As its name suggests, it is home to a herd of impala. Some hippos, as well as many reptiles and birds are also present. Additionally, several caged baboons and leopards who faced difficulties of one sort or the other in the wild are held in cages there. Over 115 different species of birds live there.[32]

Cheetahs at the Impala Sanctuary

Hippo Point[edit]

Hippo Point is a 240 ha (590 acres) viewing area on Lake Victoria. Despite its name, it is better known as a viewing point for its unobstructed sunsets over the lake than for its occasional hippos. Hippo point is located near the village of Dunga, a few kilometres South West of the city. The village also has a fishing port and a camping site.[33]

Kit Mikayi[edit]

Kit Mikayi, a large rock with three rocks on top, and is located off Kisumu Bondo Road towards Bondo. Kit-mikayi means "Stones of the first wife" or "First Wife Rocks" in Dholuo, the Luo language. It is a weeping rock; it is believed that Mikayi (literally, "the first wife") went up the hill to the stones when her husband took a second wife, and has been weeping ever since.[34] It has become a popular local pilgrimage site for adherents of the Legio Maria sect who come to the rock to pray and fast for several weeks at a time.

Ndere Island[edit]

Ndere Island, is a small island (4.2 km2 or 1.6 sq mi) in Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria in Kenya. It was gazetted as the Ndere Island National Reserve in November 1986 and has since that time been uninhabited. Great sweeping views into the Lake, with further serene and tranquil environment compared to the mainland.

Ndere Island


The Moi stadium is the main stadium in Kisumu city. In 1979, Kisumu Municipal Stadium was renamed to Moi Stadium after the then head of state, H.E Daniel Toritich Arap Moi, visited the Multiuse Venue. The Home Stadium of Kisumu Telkom (and sometimes Real Kisumu as well as other local teams from the lower tier leagues) has a well-known capacity of up to 5,000 Pax and is mostly used for soccer matches and other sports events.[35]

Moi stadium plays home to various teams such as Kisumu All Stars and Kisumu Telkom FC. Peter Anyang' Nyong'o, the governor and father of Hollywood star Lupita Nyong'o, announced that the county will build a brand new stadium. At the same time the country's current government has plans to build a national stadium. As of 2018, the plans to build the stadium by either the governor and the central government has materialized. The condition of the current stadium is pathetic and not worthy of a city.[36][37]

Kisumu is represented in the nationwide rugby league by Kisumu RFC. The city is also host to a leg of the national rugby sevens circuit, being one of only six city hosts. The Kisumu leg is referred to as the Dala sevens and the annual tournament is extremely popular attracting thousands of fans from across the country.[38]



Kisumu International Airport

Before the jet airline era, Kisumu was a landing point on the British flying boat passenger and mail route from Southampton to Cape Town. Kisumu linked Port Bell and Nairobi.

Kisumu is served by Kisumu International Airport which has international status, with regular daily flights to Nairobi and Mombasa. Expansion of the airport cargo facility after completion of the passenger terminals is currently going on in anticipation of increased trade brought about by the recreated East African Community of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.[39]


Kisumu Harbour. The green vegetation is water hyacinth.

Lake Victoria ferries have operated from the port linking the railway to Mwanza and Bukoba in Tanzania, and to Entebbe, Port Bell, and Jinja in Uganda. The first steam ships built in Kisumu in 1905 were the SS Sybila and the SS Nyanza.


As mentioned above under 'History', the Uganda Railway from the port of Mombasa reached Kisumu in 1901. Currently (2013) no passenger trains are operated between Nairobi and Kisumu. The newer standard gauge railway is currently (2018) being extended from Nairobi to Kisumu and a new passenger terminus is planned for the city[40]


President Kibaki launched a Ksh. 6.8 billion road project for a major overhaul of Kisumu's road network on 24 July 2009.[41] The city is connected to the cities of Nakuru, Nairobi and Mombasa via the A104 highway and to the north rift city of Eldoret via the B1 highway. A 450 km lake victoria ring road along the shores of the lake is currently under construction and will pass by the city.[42]

Rail and air accidents[edit]

During World War II, three aircraft operated by South African Air Force crashed into Lake Victoria soon after take-off from Kisumu Airport. The first, a Lockheed Lodestar aircraft number "K"-248 (ex ZS-ATK) carrying a senior South African military officer, Major General Dan Pienaar, crashed on 19 December 1942, killing all 12 persons on board. The other two crashes involved Douglas C-47 planes; the first on 11 May 1945 (one fatality) and the second exactly three months later, on 11 July 1945 (28 fatalities). The bodies from the two earlier accidents were repatriated to South Africa, those from the third accident are buried in the Kisumu war-graves cemetery.[43] The cause of the accidents is currently thought to be the katabatic wind condition which often affects Kisumu in the early morning.

Two serious railway accidents occurred near Kisumu in the 2000s.

The first took place outside Kisumu on 15 August 2000. The brakes on the train failed, causing it to roll. Thirteen people were killed and 37 received injuries. The second took place on the morning of 16 October 2005, when a matatu (taxi minibus) was struck by a passenger train. Six people died and 23 more were injured.

After that there have been accidents in its major towns with notable black spots:[clarification needed] Ojola/Kisian, Kisat bridge, Ahero, Sondu, Awasi just but to mention a few.


Primary education[edit]

Higher education[edit]

Kisumu is home to many universities and colleges:

Maseno University Kisumu
  • Great Lakes University
  • University of Nairobi-Kisumu Campus
  • Catholic University of East Africa-Kisumu Campus
  • Mount Kenya University
  • Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology (RIAT)
  • Tom Mboya Labour College
  • DALC Education Kisumu Campus
  • Amani Counselling Centre and Training Institute Kisumu
  • Nairobi Aviation College, Kisumu Branch
  • Intraglobal Training Institute, Kisumu
  • International School of Medicine and Technology
  • Foundation Institute of Africa
  • African Institute of Research and Development Studies, Kisumu City Campus
  • KCA University-Kisumu campus
  • Kisumu Industrial Training Centre
  • Western College of Hospitality and Professional Studies
  • Kisumu Polytechnic
  • International School of Medicine and Applied Technology
  • Kenya College of Accountancy
  • Lake Institute of Tropical Medicine
  • X-elle School of Hair Design & Beauty
  • La-Von School of Hair and Beauty
  • Sigotop Career Development College
  • Ivory Tower Institute
  • Elros Investments Mamboleo


St. Therese of Lisieux Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kisumu, opposite Kibuye Market.

Christianity in Kisumu[edit]

Christianity was brought first in the end of 19th c. by Anglicans. They are still, together with Legio Maria, predominant in the city. Kisumu is also a see of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kisumu, with her newly appointed archbishop Philip Arnold Subira Anyolo, who in November 2018 succeeded to archbishop emeritus Zacchaeus Okoth. The population is largely Luo people. In 2016 in the total of 2,684,974 inhabitants there were 1,498,037 baptized Catholics i.e. 55.8% of the population. In the Siaya County over 70% of the population are Catholics.[44][45]

Notable natives and residents[edit]

The term used to refer to a resident of Kisumu is jakisumo (plural, jokisumo). Notable jokisumo include

  • Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, politician, the first Vice-President of Kenya
  • Raila Amolo Odinga, politician, son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya's former prime minister
  • Robert Ouko, politician and son of Kisumu Nyahera who was abducted from his Koru, Kenya home. His charred body was found later.
  • Nicholas Otieno, Pan Africanist, businessman, politician, philanthropist, artist and son of Joseph Otieno Mundhe, credited for a major role in the economic and cultural revolution that has brought tremendous wealth and stability to East-Central Africa.[citation needed]
  • Lupita Nyong'o, Oscar award-winning Hollywood actress whose father is the current (2018) governor of Kisumu County.

Sister Cities[edit]

Kisumu literally means a place of barter trade "sumo".

The city has "Friendship" status with Cheltenham, United Kingdom.

Kisumu's sister cities are Roanoke, Virginia and Boulder, Colorado, United States.

Kenyan counties[edit]


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 0°6′0″S 34°45′0″E / 0.10000°S 34.75000°E / -0.10000; 34.75000