Kisumu is a quiet port town with wide streets and colonial architecture and has one of the most breathtaking sunsets. The town stands at 1,131 meters above sea level. Lake Victoria port was founded in 1901 as mainland terminal for the Kenya-Uganda Railway. The city is ideally situated at the cusp of the Winam Gulf on the shores of Lake Victoria, 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. Kisumu literally means a place of barter trade. It was identified with the explorers in 1898 as an alternative railway terminus and port for the railway services. It was to replace Port Victoria, then an important caravan trade route, near the mouth of Nzoia River. In July 1899, the very first skeleton plan for Kisumu was prepared. This included landing places and wharves along the northern lake shore, near the present day old Airport Road.
Kisumu emerged as a port in 1901. This can arguably be attributed to its location as the main inland terminal of the Kenya-Uganda Railway.
The name comes from the word #Sumo meaning trade. It is thus a major trade/shopping district in Kenya and the great lakes region.
October 1900, the 62-ton ship Sir William Mackinnon,1st Baronet, built and registered in Kisumu, made its maiden voyage to Entebbe, marking the beginning of the Lake Marine Services.
On December 20, 1901, Florence Preston the wife to the engineer building the Kenya-Uganda Railway, drove the last nail in the last sleeper (crosstie) of the railway by the shores of Lake Victoria. Port Florence thus came into being.
Kisumu was thus known as Port Florence for only one year. It then reverted to its original Luo name – Kisumu.
The arrival of the railway line made it strategically and economically vital for the interests of the British in the city itself, and in Uganda and the lake basin region as a whole. The railway consolidated British interests in Kisumu and Uganda.
The railway also literally transformed the manner in which goods and services were transported from the coast to the interior of East Africa. Up until that time, the main form of transport in the interior were either the ox-drawn wagon or human beings working as porters.
English statesman Winston Churchill visited Kisumu in 1907.
In addition, the railway facilitated tourism. Hunting parties used railcars on the railway to go hunting.
President Theodore Roosevelt was one of those who travelled to East Africa for game hunting, which is chronicled in Roosevelt’s book about his African expedition.
The railway also helped the British in their campaign against General Paul Erich von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Germans in the East African Campaign during World War I.
In 1930s and 40s ithad become a leading EA center for commerce, Administrative and Military installation.
Kisumu was also privileged to host the first flight in East and Central Africa. The current police workshop was the first hangar in Kenya and the entire East Africa.
Some of the white settlers, however, actually believed, erroneously that Kisumu derived its name from ‘sumu’ – a Swahili word meaning poison because of the dangerous malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the area.
Kisumu is the most strategic city in the great lakes region. Both commercially, and administratively.
Various tribes had different pronunciation of Kisumu. Luo – Kisuma/Kisumo; Luhya – Khusuma; Gusii – Egesumu; Nandi – Kisumett
Kondele shopping centre arguably boasts one of the highest number of bars and drinking places per kilometer in Kenya ( if not Africa).
Kondele is the only 24hr economy in Kisumu since time immemorial.
Kibuye Market in Kisumu is the biggest open-air market in East and Central Africa.
Kisumu is the first millennium city in the whole wide world