The last few days have been rather busy ones for the County Government of Kakamega as it played host to arguably one of the biggest county-level events in Kenya – the 2018 Devolution Conference.
Large corporations, county governments, and diversity of small-scale businesses from across the country and abroad descended on this sugar capital of Kenya and home to Africa’s largest and most aggressive cobra, the dreaded Kakamega Forest Cobra, to grab an opportunity to be seen and to see someone.
The Devolution Conference, now in its 5th year, is held every year to celebrate the successes of devolution. This year, the focus was on the recently unveiled Big Four agenda which includes health, infrastructure, energy, urban development, land and housing, agriculture, and trade and manufacturing.
Just like the event was big, so were its problems, top on the list were the heavy rains that pounded the area for the entire 5-day period of the conference.
It did not take long before the whole of Kakamega High, where the event was held, was a slippery muddy affair made worse by the big SUVs that came and went to deliver exhibitors and their interesting merchandise, leaving a trail of what looked like well-mixed chocolatey dow ready for an oven trip.
But you should have seen the hopping, skipping, and jumping antiques that then ensued as ordinary Kenyans and dignitaries alike made every effort, even changing their walking styles, to keep the mud away from their nicely polished shoes.
The ladies were particularly disadvantaged as the heels of their shoes kept getting stuck in the wet ground! It must have been quite an energy-sipping experience having to pull out the shoes deep in the ground every now and then. By the second day, most were wisely in boots!
While the jumping and hopping exercise continued, the business community braved the rain, mud, confusion, and occasional shoplifters to showcase some amazing wares and concepts from the county including a locally assembled motorbike christened Kibo.
The Tanzanians were not left behind either. They came with their dazzling vitenges and colourful men’s tops and ladies’ dresses.
There were also some pretty strange items like this one booth that had, on display, a variety of interesting products including men’s caps, sandals, and safari boots made from fish skin – yes, fish skin or skin of fish, if you like!
For the foodies, the event did not disappoint as a showcase of African traditional foods, preparation methods, and quite interesting fruit varieties from as far as Mandera in the north were on display.
I did not get a chance to taste the legendary Mursik from the land of runners but I did drink some tasty yogurt from Trans Nzoia and sip some fine tea from Kericho, the home of Kenyan tea.
Accommodation proved a nightmare, especially if you had not booked in advance. On the day of the conference, it was virtually impossible to get a room in Kakamega town.
By the second day, the surrounding towns of Vihiga, Kisumu, Mumias, and even Bungoma were also fully booked! Some participants even commuted daily from Eldoret! We ended up staying in Bungoma and did the 60 KM trip to Kakamega every day.
This proved beneficial in the end since we had the daily opportunity to witness the metamorphosis of the mighty River Nzoia as it burst its banks with every waking day of continuous rains. It was a sight to see.
By Thursday, the last day of the Devolution Conference, everyone was busy pulling down and packing as they stole an occasional opportunity to make that one last sale or connection – the mud and rain notwithstanding. It was a disappointment no one from the tourism sector had exhibited, nevertheless, the event proved quite an experience.
As we headed back to Nairobi from Kakamega, an eerily dark cloud of rain hang over us. A heavy downpour was about to be unleashed. It was almost as if nature was saying, “here I come for the final showdown.”
On our way, we chanced on the unexpected bonus of catching families of baboons that come out to the roadside from the nearby Kakamega Forest to collect foodstuff from motorists who are only eager to throw it at them if only to enjoy the ape mischief that unfolds.