Located in Nyanza Province, southwestern Kenya, Kisii District is predominantly populated by members of the Kisii (Gusii) community, a Bantu ethnic group. The district is home to the Kisii (or Gusii) people, a Bantu ethnic group that comprises about four percent of Kenya's population. The region is a rich agricultural area with a highland equatorial climate receiving ample rainfall. The district is hilly, very densely populated, with land-poor farmers terracing steep hill sides, thereby contributing to a significant erosion problem. Tea is the major cash crop for the district. Other important crops are bananas, coffee, pyrethrum and sugar cane.
The area is also renowned for its lucrative soap stone quarries and brick making industries. The district capital is Kisii Town; estimated population: 120,000. Strategically located on the busy Kenya-Tanzania highway, with good road access to Kericho (and a restoration of the Kisii-Kilgoris road planned), Kisii town is the economic and transportation hub for the region. A visit to the town on a market day revealed the main street bustling with traders, both in agricultural products and commercial goods.
Bantu-speaking peoples began arriving in the Lake Victoria region of western Kenya by about the eleventh century. Settled agricultural practices appear to have been adopted by at least some Luo, but by the middle of the next century others were on the move southward along the shore of the lake, conquering new territory as they went. There they came against the Bantu Kisii (Gusii), who were also expanding into this part of Kenya. Territorial adjustments between these three peoples, as well as with Nilotic groups on their eastern fringes, often involved warfare and continued until the imposition of British control early in the twentieth century effectively brought an end to the forcible occupation of land by rival ethnic groups.
In addition to the groups listed in the census, there are others that ethnographers and linguists have been aware of but that have probably been lumped with a neighboring or surrounding group. For example, enclaved among the Kisii are the Nubi (numbers uncertain but described as small), who are descendants of people brought from southern Sudan and northern Uganda as soldiers early in the colonial era. The Nubi speak a locally modified Arabic at home and use Swahili as a mode of communication with their neighbors. Few speak Kisii as a second language.
Simeon Nyachae, Minister of Roads and Chairman of the pro-government FORD-People party, declared his intent to retire from politics n 2007 given health concerns (he is 75 years old). FORD-People completely dominated the political landscape of Kisii district in Nyanza Province, located in western Kenya on the shores of Lake Victoria. All 10 Members of Parliament (MPs) from the densely populated district represent FORD-People. The party splintered from FORD-Asili in 1997, which in turn is an offshoot of FORD (Forum for the Restoration of Democracy). Nyachae joined FORD-People in 1998 after falling out of favor with then-President Moi. His astute political mobilization tactics created a Kisii voting block that increased FORD-People's representation in parliament from three to ten, but also removed any claim of the party to have a national character.
Nyachae's leadership of the party was described as overbearing and dictatorial, allowing little room for dissent or challenge to his tight political control. But there were signs that Nyachae's hold on the Kisii community was slipping. Despite his strong advocacy throughout 2005 for the government sponsored draft constitution, the majority of Kisii voters rejected the draft in the November 2005 national referendum, including voters in his own constituency. Nyachae faced competition within the Kisii community for representing the government.
In distinction to their firmly opposition-oriented Nyanza Province neighbors, the Luos, the Kisii community tended to favor the Kibaki government. Nyanza Province's population is overwhelmingly Luo, which is Kenya's largest Nilotic ethnic group. As a Bantu ethnic group, the Kisii had more cultural and linguistic affinities with Kibaki's Kikuyu community than they do with their Luo neighbors, and so tend to support the President.
In Kenyan politics, factors of ethnic identity matter a great deal. That said, dissatisfaction with the delivery of government services and unmet infrastructure promises have opened a window of opportunity among the Kisii electorate for the opposition ODM-K coalition. The national level economic growth rate of six percent had not resulted in improvements in the lives of ordinary Kisiis. Despite improved access to education, few would report that they are better off than they were in 2002 when the Kibaki administration came to power.
Although increased access to education was among Kibaki's top re-election campaign themes, this line did not resonate in the district due to the deplorable state of education in Kisii. Students score at the bottom on the national exam. There was an acute lack of teachers and poor infrastructure, in both absolute terms and relative to other districts. Seventy percent of rural schools in the district lacked most essential infrastructure (classrooms, desks, toilets, etc.).
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