A drive around Manyatta Estate in Kisumu reveals crazy names the matatu touts keep calling at every stop over.
This is accompanied by the huge number of meandering corners the vehicles have to take after every few meters.
Located one kilometer from the CBD and a few meters from Kondele Junction, it will not take you long before the names ‘Corner Legio, Corner Mbuta, Corner Maji and Corner Mbaya’.
“These four corners have a symbol to residents of Manyatta. They portray different meanings which are special in many ways to the people living here,” Peter Obonyo said.
Obonyo, 65, has been residing in Manyatta for the whole of his life and said Manyatta is defined by the four corners.
A peri-urban estate on the eastern outskirts of Kisumu City, Kenya’s third-largest city slum, Manyatta is located in what might be called slangy as the Kisumu’s “slum belt.”
This is a group of informal settlements that have grown for decades skirting around the center and suburbs of Kisumu since Kenya achieved independence.
Historically, Manyatta is associated with the Maasais and other African communities where meant a group of huts forming a unit within a common fence.
In Kisumu, Manyatta was formed as a result of colonial racism that pushed Africans with low-level of education to living in neglected sections of emerging colonial towns and the rapid urban population growth that took place during and after colonialism.
Little more than a market place during the precolonial times, Kisumu evolved as an important terminus of the Kenya-Uganda Railway, linking the port of Mombasa along the coast of Kenya and Lake Victoria in the interior.
Originally known as Port Florence, Kisumu became an important economic hub during the colonial period. It still is, to some extent.
Africans slowly migrated to these cities, looking for work that the government offered and informal activities that could offer them a living but they found the city segregated where some areas of the city were demarcated for whites, others were created for Asians and others reserved for Africans.
The needs of the African migrants in the city were neglected. In fact, many informal African settlements were allowed to grow around the cities without any regulation or control by the colonial administrators running the cities, leading to formation of Manyatta.
The residents of Manyatta range from low-income to the unemployed, with a few scattered mid-income earners also living in the slum.
The area has a well-connected transportation system for commuting to employment or school.
It is the transport system that led to the perennial formation of these four corners.
We dug deep to find out how the four corners were formed and their significance importance to the community.
Obonyo, who has 10 children, says Corner Legio came by as a result of religion.
The first stop over leading into Manyatta Estate, the area which is located along Kondele-Kibos Road was named Corner Legio because of the dominant Legio Maria faithfuls in that specific area.
Backed with a symbolic church in St Peters Manyatta church, Obonyo said the area is mainly associated with religious activities.
“Here is where people worship. It is considered a religious center where peace and harmony prevails,” Obonyo said.
His sentiments are supported by Mama Jackline Apondi, a Legio Maria faithful who has lived in Manyatta for the past four decades.
She says the area is not only a religious center but has grown into a business center within the last ten years.
“Ten years ago we had only one shop here but today it is a thriving business center with hardware’s, shops, salons, hotels and a mini-market where one can get fresh fish, chicken and vegetables. It is an important area,” she said.
Few hundred meters from Corner Legio is Corner Mbuta, the second stop over.
According to residents, the area used to be synonymous with Nile Perch fish which is commonly referred to as ‘Mbuta’ in Luo dialect.
Jane Awuor, who inherited the business of selling fish from her parents a decade ago said the area used to be flooded with fish.
“Being synonymous with fish made commuters refer to the stop over as Corner Mbuta because they were alighting and boarding at the corner where fish was being sold,” she said.
Currently, the area is a small-scale air market where second hand clothes are sold alongside shops, vegetable and fish.
The third stop over is just 100 meters away from Corner Mbuta and was predominantly associated with water.
Named after water, which in Swahili refers to ‘Maji’, the area is said to have been the major water point in the estate where water was sold.
Richard Ongondo, bodaboda motorist said he used to buy water in that area in the early and late 2000s.
“It was a place of water. It acted as the heart of Manyatta because water could be fetched in that specific area,” said the 51-year-old Ongondo who grew up in Manyatta.
Others however said it was named Maji because it used to flood whenever it rained.
“Whenever it rained before the tarmac roads were built, the area used to be a swamp of water which sometimes overflowed to the then main gravel road that used to serve motorists,” Pauline Anyango, a businesswoman at Corner Maji said.
Today, the area has good drainage system and tarmac road and has grown to become another small market center.
Regarded as the most dangerous of all, Corner Mbaya, just as the last name portrays it, means bad.
Characterized with a sharp long bend, the stopover is not only synonymous with deadly accidents but is a crime hub consisting of goons, pick-pocketers, murders and drugs peddlers.
Youths smoking bang can always be seen strolling around the corner waiting for the right opportunity to pounce.
For fear of victimization, a bodaboda motorist who spoke to us said the low living standards and lack of employment is what drives the youth into crime.
He said even majority of the motorists are forced into crime because circulation of money is low especially with the increased number of motorist in the estate.
“Sometimes you make only Sh200 in a day and that is where you have to get food, fuel and pay the owner of the bike his daily charges. It is these situations that lead some of us to rob people at night,” he said.
Though crime has slowly reduced over time, the area is still considered dangerous with rival bodaboda motorist killing each other with the latest being in April 2021 where two boda boda men were killed at Corner Mbaya.
“The area has no lights at night and that contributes majorly to the high crime rate in the area. Furthermore, police officers rarely patrol the area at night,” Omondi Ouma, a resident, said.
However, the area has still thrived to become a business center with shops, hardware and a mini evening market for fresh food.
For sure, the corners of Manyatta are not in vain.