Kisii town, once a one-lane shopping centre with countable buildings, surrounded by steep, heavily forested hills, has progressively grown into a buzzing business centre – the second fastest growing town in Nyanza region after Kisumu.
Kisii was originally known as Getembe. It was a small beer market that got conquered by the British in the late 19th century.
After the indigenous population started taking over the town in the early 1970s, they encroached on road reserves, which has led to congestion as residents fight for the little available space in the wake of a population explosion.
The growth is attributed to a combination of factors, such as a conducive climate for economic investment and the strategic location of the town on the highway to Uganda and Tanzania.
A report by the United Kingdom-based Sustainable Urban Economic Development in 2019 ranked Kisii town among the 12 fastest-growing municipalities in Kenya. Although the town prides itself with growth, economic experts warn that competition for limited resources, such as land, threatens the future stability of the town.
Additionally, the lack of sufficient room for expansion puts the town in jeopardy because existing social amenities will be stretched to accommodate the fast-growing population.
The town faces serious challenges as the land continues to shrink. According to the 2019 census, Kisii County has a population of 1.2 million. Kisii is among 12 municipalities in which Sustainable Urban Economic Development (Sued) carries out various development programmes.
The programme is funded by the United Kingdom’s department of International Development (DFID) and aims at supporting the 12 fast-growing municipalities in Kenya to develop sustainable urban development and economic plans for critical infrastructure.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor, Patrick Njoroge, in a past interview said the bank will open a currency centre in Kisii to ease the distribution of cash to financial institutions. Its construction is almost complete.
Dr Njoroge said the decision was informed by high cash circulation in Kisii town, which is expected to serve parts of Rift Valley and Nyanza region. CBK has three branches in Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret.
More than 10 Level Four health facilities operate within the town alone while others are located in the outskirts.
The new private-owned hospitals have helped decongest the public Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, serving about six million people in Kisii, Nyamira, Trans Mara and parts of Bomet, Migori, Kericho and Homa Bay counties.
The increase in health providers has led to more specialists in the region and the communities now rarely seek specialised medical services outside the county. There are also more than 20 institutions of higher education in Kisii, including public and private universities.
The town also has a vibrant night life with dozens of hotels located in the town.