Located along the Kisumu-Busia Road (Nairobi Highway) on Kisumu's east side, Mega City Kisumu is a modern shopping mall anchored by the largest outlet of Nairobi-based retail giant Nakumatt. Mega City is more than a market for goods, however. It is also an important end point for products that often originate well outside Kisumu and often in more distant places such as South Africa. Trade has been an essential activity that has connected different peoples all over the world for centuries, and South Africa and Kenya are no exception. Countries like South Africa and Kenya produce precious commodities that are beneficial to themselves as well as to different nations in Africa and the world. This essay examines trade between Kisumu in Kenya, and South Africa, and thereby provides a backdrop for understanding how Mega City plays a key role in supplying various goods, commodities, and items from South Africa to Kisumu.
Historically, the predominant inhabitants of Kisumu are the Luo. Due to the lack of a standard medium of exchange, the Luo often engaged in barter trade with their neighbors, including with the Abagusii, Abakuria, and Abaluhya people in the Lake Victoria Basin. Over time, these commercial activities expanded to include the Nandi and Maasai, among many others.
The Luo traded in locally produced goods such as millet, sorghum, vegetables, animal skins, beads, hoes, and spears. They also exchanged their chickens, goats, sheep and cattle for items produced by their neighbors. The food items obtained during such trade helped the Luo to offset shortages caused by drought and famine.
The Luo also traded in traditional medical products known as "yath" or "yien," which they made from various plant and animal parts, and by mixing soils and water into medicinal pastes. They traded or sold such items to the sick or to traditional medicine-men for healing purposes. In addition, the Luo were and are still known for trading in items made from basketry and pottery.
Over time, the Luo started trading with Europeans and Asians when the British arrived in Kenya and built the Kenya-Uganda Railway, connecting Mombasa to Kisumu and thence to Uganda. The railway transformed Kisumu into a very important town both for the Europeans and the Luo. For the Luo, the railway provided an opportunity to sell and buy goods through Mombasa's port to other parts of the world.
When the British arrived in Kenya and constructed the Kenya-Uganda Railway, Mombasa was already a well-known port city to the people who lived in the Indian Ocean world. Several ships could dock there on their way to the horn of Africa, Arabia, India, Indonesia, and even China and Japan. The Kenya-Uganda Railway accelerated a process that was already underway: it facilitated trade between the interior of Kenya and the outside world by literally linking Kisumu with Mombasa.
The Kenya-Uganda Railway therefore transformed the status of the port of Mombasa into an important gateway for goods and services between the outside world and Kisumu. The railroad essentially "shortened" the distance between Mombasa and Kisumu and accelerated the pace of transporting goods and services between Kisumu, Mombasa, and the outside world. Other factors at play in facilitating contacts between Kisumu, Mombasa, and the outside world were trunk and feeder roads that were constructed between Mombasa and Kisumu.
Although the railroad served as an important link between Kisumu and Mombasa and the outside world, the construction of trunk and feeder roads also provided more links for goods and services to circulate between Kisumu in the interior of Kenya, and beyond. The roads boosted trade between South Africa and Kisumu. In short, the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway and tarmac roads made the transportation of goods from Kisumu to Mombasa and also from Mombasa to Kisumu and into South Africa easier and faster.
Trade between Kisumu and South Africa is continues to thrive. Various products from South Africa have found their way into Kenya, in general, and Kisumu, in particular. Some of the goods that are traded from South Africa to Kisumu include fruits like apples, oranges, grapes, kiwi fruits, peaches, dates, yellow lemons, mandarins, cranberries, amongst others. Other items from South Africa are wines and spirits, juice blends of different fruits, eggs, food supplements, and others are cars, and jewelries.
Currently, several agricultural companies in the South African area produce and sell goods to Kisumu. One of the producers of apples and pears is Tru-Cape, which was established in 2001. Fruit Ways, another company that distributes apples and pears around the world, is located in the Western Cape of South Africa. The largest agricultural company in South Africa is Dutoit, located in West and South Cape. These agricultural businesses export their products mainly to the Mega City Supermarket chain. Oranges from South Africa, as well as other fruits, are usually transported to Mombasa's port and then via trucks to Nairobi, where the South African Company is based. They are then shipped via trucks to different parts of the country, including to Kisumu.
Manufactured goods and products from South Africa have flooded Kisumu markets, including automobiles, electronics and second-hand clothes, as well as wheat and wine. Typically, these goods also make their way to Kisumu through the port of Mombasa. However, some products, such as automobiles, are driven into Kenya, and eventually to Kisumu, through Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania.
Such trade benefits all those concerned. The supply of South African food items especially fruits to Kisumu helps the economy of South Africa. The South African companies that export food to Kisumu employ workers in the fields, to process the food, and to ship goods to the different distributors. Kisumu also benefits economically through local ownership of businesses, such as Mega City, as well as through the employment of local people. Goods and products from South Africa and the world also supplement the goods available in the local market.
As long as no place, region, country, or continent produces all that it needs to survive, they will have to turn to trade to get what they need. Trade has been an important part of South Africa's, Kisumu's, and Kenya's history. This will continue to be so now and in the future. Not only does trade help the economy of all these areas, it also helps the people of Kenya and South Africa lead a more productive life as well as contribute to their self-worth.