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Located at the shores of the world’s second largest freshwater lake, Lake Victoria and at 1,131 m (3,711 ft), the vibrant third largest city in Kenya, Kisumu City, boasts of a rich history of international trade, tropical climate, good transport network and a vibrant population majorly the Luo ethnic tribe of Kenya.

History of the City


Kisumu literally means a place of barter trade “sumo” in the Luo language, and is locally called ‘Kisumo’. It was the major port of Lake Victoria during the commonwealth of East Africa, then known as Port Florence. The town was founded in the early 19th Century mainly as the main inland terminal of the Asian built Uganda railway. Asians once formed a quarter of the population of the town, with cultural and infrastructural evidence of this visible to date.

Kisumu is the principal city of western Kenya and forms the commercial, industrial and transportation center majorly due to its water and rail connections. Formally the headquarters of the greater Nyanza Province, the town has grown to be the third largest city in Kenya after Nairobi and Mombasa and is now the headquarters of Kisumu County.

The main industries in Kisumu are centered around processing of agricultural products, fishing, brewing and textile manufacturing industries.

Lake Victoria

Discovered in the 19th Century, 1858, by British Explorer John Spanning Speke, who named it Lake Victoria, after Queen Victoria of England, as he was looking for the source of the Nile. It is the second largest fresh water lake in the world, exceeded in size only by Lake Superior in North America and the largest lake in Africa.

Fishing forms the main economic activity in the lake. The Tilapia is the most popular fish from this lake, majorly because of its economic importance. There are other 200 species of fish in the lake.

There are numerous Islands on the Kenyan side of the lake namely Rusinga Island, Mfangano Island and Ndere Island.

The Luo

Despite having a multi-ethnic population, the Luo ethnic tribe of Kenya form the major population of Kisumu City. Originally from the Southern Parts of now the Republic of South Sudan, the tribe migrated along the Nile and settled at the shores of Lake Victoria, Winam Gulf. They are popularly referred to as the River-Lake Nilotes in history books. Their native language is known as Dholuo.

It is from this tribe that the popular Legend of Lwanda Magere is spoken, a popular film released in 2020. Folklore spoke of this mighty warrior with superhuman strength at the shores of Lake Victoria, that would single-handedly fight the enemies of the tribe. Other global figures that trace their roots to the Luo tribe include Lupita Nyong’o- Academy Award winner actress and Barack Obama-the 44th President of the United States of America.


Kenya as a country is a popular tourism destination throughout the year. From the white sandy beaches at the coast to scenic landscapes, wild life, memorable mountain expeditions and the majestic beauty of a wide variety of flora and fauna form some of the main tourist attractions.


Because of the close proximity to Lake Victoria and the rivers that drain into the lake such as Rivers Yala, Nyando and Nzoia, fish (‘rech’ in Dholuo) was and still remains the most popular dish among the Luos and in Kisumu City. The most popular signature species being the Tilapia (‘ngege’ in Dholuo). Traditionally, the Luo men would go fishing in the lake while the women would remain in the homestead (‘dala’ in Dholuo) to tend to the farms and children.

The fish would be prepared in any of the three ways, namely; boiled fish, smoked fish or roasted fish. This would then be served with ‘Kuon’ (ugali in Swahili-a type of stiff porridge-made from corn flour, or sorghum flour or cassava flour or millet flour or a mixture of any two flour).

Other accompaniments would be fresh vegetables (‘alot’ in Dholuo) both wild and grown such as “dek,” “apoth,” “mito,” and “osuga.”

In Kisumu City, a meal of fried tilapia and kuon is very popular. The meal consists of deep-fried tilapia, ‘kuon’ and cooked fresh vegetables (‘alot’). Prepared in a more modern way, but still maintains the idea of what traditional meals consisted of among the Luo ethnic tribe.


Kisumu_Roads_Africities-3.jpg January 17, 2022

Road Transport:

Kisumu City has a robust road network connecting various town centres in the city. Buses, ‘matatus’ (vans) and taxis form the major means of road transport into and within Kisumu City. Others would be ‘bodaboda’ (motorcyles).

Air transport:

Kisumu is served by an international airport, Kisumu International Airport, with regular daily flights to and from other parts of the country. There is a dual highway to and from the airport for faster and ease of access. Taxis services are readily available at the airport.

Train Service:

For the adventurous visitors, there is a 13hrs train journey between Nairobi and Kisumu with beautiful scenery of the diverse Kenyan landscape throughout the journey including the Great Rift Valley. It is a 217-kilometre route that has 18 stations, 46 bridges and 27 viaducts.

Ferry Service:

These are traditional steam and diesel-powered ships that are used for cargo and passenger services between Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya on Lake Victoria at Kisumu, Mwanza, Bukoba, Entebbe, Port Bell and Jinja ports. The typical journeys range between 13hrs to 19hrs between port to port. They hold advantage on the fact that the popular train lines terminate at these ports in their respective countries, thus allowing for cheaper freight services.



Kisumu City is a tropical climate zone, with the added benefit of bordering Lake Victoria. The City is warm and overcast with temperatures rarely below 61°F or above 93°F. The sky cover by clouds experiences significant seasonal variation over the course of the year with April being the cloudiest while August being the clearest. Chances of wet days in Kisumu City varies throughout the year, with April having most wet days. However, the regular cool breeze from the Lake Victoria and random showers make life beautiful at the lakeside city.