Kisumu: A City in Slumber

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I’ve been collecting various statistics to measure the growth of major Kenyan cities/towns whereupon I stumbled on an oddity – the city of Kisumu. The 2009 census indicates Kisumu has a population of 409,928  thereby making the city third largest in Kenya . The general principles of economics state that an increase in population leads to increase economic activity – ceteris paribus . However, Kisumu seems to be the classical case of the Malthusian Economic Theory in which rapid population growth leads to reduced economic activity. Let’s look at some numbers.

GitHub Users in Africa

GitHub Users in Africa

The image above is a visualization of GitHub users in Africa by city (GitHub is a web application for sharing and storing code). As expected, Nairobi has the lion share of Github users given the tech boom in the city. This is followed by Mombasa, then the population law breaks, third place is Eldoret, followed by Nakuru and at fifth place Kisumu despite Kisumu hosting several universities and a technology hub.

Perhaps this was a flawed methodology of measuring active users since more people would select location as Nairobi yet they actively work from Kisumu. So I set to find another dataset that would dismiss or confirm the trend. Luckily, MobiAds released their report on Mobile user habits in Kenya. Among the analytic breakdown was active users of their mobile app Royalty King per city. As shown in the image below, Kisumu ranks fifth after Nairobi > Mombasa > Nakuru > Eldoret.

Mobiads Actve Users

Mobiads Actve Users

The ranking also applies to active users on Facebook. An article published by Techweez on the growing number of active Facebook user puts Kisumu tied at number 5 with Nakuru.

Facebook Active Users in Kenya

Facebook Active Users in Kenya

IT matters aside, let’s look at other indicators that best capture the overall economic performance of major cities. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) publication ‘Statistical Abstract book 2015’ enumerates some of these indicators. In the construction industry, Eldoret, Nakuru, Mombasa and Nairobi recorded more completed housing units for residential and commercial use than Kisumu.

KNBS Completed Housing Units Report

KNBS Completed Housing Units Report

In the aviation sector, Jambo Jet flies 5 times a day to Mombasa, 3 times a day to Eldoret and twice a day to Kisumu. All these figures indicate Kisumu is lagging behind Eldoret and Nakuru in economic development. It worth noting both Eldoret and Nakuru have population size half of Kisumu. Who’s snoozing in the city?

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  1. Could you also widen your scope to include other facets of market economy and then also get some pro and cons angel, generally a good start though your choice of indicators is narrow

    • I’d love to include more facets of the markets but the data isn’t available online. I did check a few articles on exports and Eldoret airport does more in volume than Kisumu.

  2. You could be right but you may find that if you conducted the same survey a couple of years ago they would have probably been even much further ahead of Kisumu. Kisumu’s transformation in very recent with the expansion of the airport and opening up of some major roads. They are they are in fact catching up fast; waking up from that “slumber” if that’s how you want to put it. Perhaps consider Tripadvisor reviews as a tourism indicator. I started monitoring these less that a year ago with view of an investment in hospitality in one of the Kenyan secondary towns. At the time Kisumu and Nakuru were almost tied in terms of number of reviews. And now…; Kisumu ~2,000 reviews; Nakuru ~1,000 reviews: Eldoret ~540 reviews

    • Hi Steve,

      A better indicator would be bed capacity in each of the towns/cities and number number of visitors to nearby parks (available from KNBS). Not everyone who visits a hotel reviews it online – perhaps Nakuru has expensive lodges in which occupants don’t bother with online reviews.

      I’m of the opinion that tourism is a skewed comparative factor since Nakuru naturally enjoys abundant national parks as opposed to Kisumu and Eldoret.

  3. Kisumu tourism hasn’t actually got much to do with anything IN Kisumu (other than possibly the Lake). Businesses and tourists choose Kisumu because it’s strategically placed in terms of major attractions in East Africa as a whole; if for instance I wanted to do a Nile excursion in Jinja and also visit the Masai Mara, Kisumu provides a convenient base as long as the hotels are up to standard. In fact if there were direct flights to Kisumu in that case, there would be no need for me to go to Nairobi at all, avoiding the congestion and pollution in that city (Nairobi) that was designed for half a million people and now has more than four. Just for your information there are no direct international flights to Kisumu yet. Even though it was recently designated as an international airport, the second phase of it’s expansion that would actually enable direct overseas exports from Kisumu won’t be completed till next year. So your comparison with Eldoret International in terms of exports mean nothing. Kisumu is not exporting anything directly. Yet.

    • Hi Steve,

      My argument is hinged on the fact the Kisumu has a population almost twice of both Nakuru and Eldoret. Therefore, consumer patterns and investment opportunities should be higher irrespective of industry. However, that’s not the case – which indicates ‘slumber’. A good example would be South Africa and Nigeria. While Nigeria has a population twice of South Africa, its economy is lagging behind SA, probably because of corruption, war, terrorism e.t.c.

  4. Hey. I will agree with you on the many facets of the survey depicting the comparity of Kisumu vis-a-vis other cities/towns.

    But, as we currently speak, Kisumu City is slowly but surely rising. With the first paced infrastructural development, expanding real estate market and even the development of skyscrapers/mega malls within the city attests to the fact that the next first years will be a totally different story. Kisumu suffered a huge blow in the aftermath of the PEV, and this dragged down investment confidence to a whole new low.

    We are seeing a lot of interest that will open up the city/region. With the port redevelopment, SGR coming up in the next few years, the highways, the airport and a burgeoning middle class/elite populace, this will be a city to behold.

    Just on the twitcasts over there, if you ask anyone about his home city, they would always answer in the affirmative. Again, the times the above twits were collected is over time, I wish they were very current thoughts, since a lot has happened since 2011.

    Am reposting this on my site:

    • Hi Dennis,

      Thank you for you comment. I’m in agreement with your assessment. Although there is improved investment environment, it’s not growing as fast as other cities. I think it is a worthy discussion. Go ahead and post on your site.


  5. Pingback: Kisumu is a Sleeping Giant - Amazing Kisumu

  6. In 2014 Kisumu was behind but as we speak today in 2017 it has surpassed Nakuru and Eldoret in terms of malls hotels and infrastructure

  7. Pingback: Kisumu is a Sleeping Giant - Amazing Kisumu %

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