Mbita is a small, rural town located along the shores of Lake Victoria, near the southwestern border of Kenya. Often referred to on maps as Mbita Point, the town is located on a peninsula, with water on 3 sides and surrounded by picturesque islands. Located only 50 miles south of the equator, the sun shines strong and the climate is moderately hot year-round with temperatures seldom varying more than 20 degrees F. The mild climate, moderately fertile land, and plenty of fishing makes Mbita a sustainable place to live. Mbita lies within Homabay County which is part of the Lake Region (previously called Nyanza Province) and is approximately an 8 hour drive (by car) west of Nairobi.
Demographics & Economy
The population of Mbita and the surrounding islands is estimated around 50,000 with much of the population living in outlying [rural] areas and a majority of the people under the age of 18. It is almost exclusively inhabited by the Luo tribe, which is the second largest tribe in Kenya, numbering around 3 million. Because of their close proximity to the Lake, the Luos quickly adapted to fishing as a means of survival. They are the preeminent fishermen in Kenya, mainly using gill nets and long-line fishing to catch Tilapia and Nile Perch. They also still use basket traps to catch the tiny Omena fish, similar to a sardine. Most of the fishermen use hollowed-out log canoes or plank-built craft of considerable complexity and size. Every night thousands of kerosene lanterns attached to the canoes dot the horizon of the lake. It is called “the city on the lake.” They use the light to attract lake flies (similar to gnats) close to the water, which then attracts the smaller fish to the surface and into their nets.
Mbita has one of the poorest infrastructures in the country, and therefore has been one of the hardest hit by poverty and unemployment. With mostly all dirt roads in the area, the roads often become impassable during rainy season and dangerously dusty during droughts. Bad roads in this district have stifled the growth of the fishing industry and agricultural production. The district also has little electricity; with only 3.3% of homes being connected to power.
One large contributing factor to poverty in Mbita district is that 55% of the population are children under the age of 19 and 3.6% of the population is over the age of 65 (2012 est). Much of the economically active population is supporting all the dependents (children and elderly) which makes it challenging to save money or have capital to start a business. Half of the population is trying to support the other half, but even many of the people who are working age are not able to find employment. The few with a reliable income are asked to support their entire extended families; buying food, paying school fees, and other necessities.
In 2010, the government began construction on the road between Mbita and Homabay (the nearest larger town). In 2013, during elections, construction came to a halt with only half the road paved. In early 2014, construction started up once again. When finished, this will make transportation of goods more efficient and make Mbita a more “attractive” town to invest in developing. Electricity is also becoming more reliable and available. There are 3 banks in town, one which provides low-cost loans and affordable bank accounts to lower income families, another is an international bank. Cell phone coverage is growing which has also increased internet access. Mbita’s location on Lake Victoria and proximity to Rusinga Island (known for it’s historical landmarks and un-charted beauty) has the potential to develop into a thriving town in future years.
In terms of volume, Lake Victoria is the 2nd biggest freshwater lake in the world behind Lake Superior, but Lake Victoria actually has the biggest surface area, covering 69,000 square kilometers.. It supports thirty million people or 1/3 of the population of the three East African countries (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda), including a total of 150,000 fishermen. Every day there are 60,000 canoes and 10,000 boats that travel on Lake Victoria.