Mbita, Kenya

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 farenheit. 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 to be around 50,000 with much of the population living in outlying [rural] areas. Mbita is almost exclusively inhabited by the Luo tribe, which is the second largest tribe in Kenya, numbering around six million. Because of the 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 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. The two main roads through town are paved; however, all outlying roads are dirt and 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 less than 5% 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. The paved road was finally finished in 2015 and has made transportation of goods more efficient and 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.

Lake Victoria
In terms of volume, Lake Victoria is the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the world behind Lake Superior, but Lake Victoria actually has the biggest surface area, covering 69,000 square kilometers. It supports 30 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.

More About Kenya

Kenya is one of 54 independent countries on the African continent. With over 47 million people, it’s the 33rd largest country by population. Located in East Africa, Kenya is a beautiful and diverse country from the pristine beaches along the Indian Ocean coastal strip, to the temperate central highlands bisected by The Great Rift Valley, to the fertile plateau in the west, to the savanna of the Masai Mara, to the isolated dry desert of the far north. The people are equally diverse having different tribal traditions and culture. Generally, all Kenyans are full of life, hospitality and a love for their country!

Capital City: Nairobi

Location: Eastern Africa, divided by the equator, bordering the Indian Ocean and Somalia on the east; South Sudan and Ethiopia to the north; Uganda to the west; Tanzania to the south.

Size: 219,788 square miles (569,250 square kilometers). Roughly twice the size of Nevada.

Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 meters. Highest point: Mount Kenya 5,199 m (17,057 feet).

Population: 47,615,739 (2018 est.)

Ethnic Groups (tribes): Kikuyu 22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, non-African (Asian, European, and Arab) 1%.

Language: English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous languages

Religions: Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, Muslim 10%, indigenous beliefs 10%, other 2%
note: a large majority of Kenyans are Christian, but estimates for the percentage of the population that adheres to Islam or indigenous beliefs vary widely

*Facts taken from CIA World Factbook

The school year runs from January to early November. There are 3 school terms. Term 1, January – March. Term 2, May – July. Term 3 September – November. Between each term, students and teachers have school break of usually 3 weeks. The long holiday is in November/December when there is a 5-6 week break.

Many Kenyans place a high value on education, which is seen as the key to personal and communal success. Villagers often contribute funds through a self-help system known as Harambee (in Kiswahili meaning, "Let us pull together.") to send youth to a university.

The education system is an 8-4-4 system with 8 years of primary education, 4 years of secondary education and 4 years of university. Nursery class and Pre-Primary (Kindergarten) are considered Early Childhood Development (ECD) and not mandatory for entry into Class 1. The Kenyan university system is 4 years for a Bachelor’s Degree. Many other post-secondary options exist for those who do not qualify or can’t afford university. College (Certificates and Associates degrees) is often 2-3 years, while Teacher’s Training College (for teaching primary school) is 2 years.

Education in Kenya is fairly expensive (relative to income) and is a big strain for most families, the majority of whom live below the universal poverty line of U.S. $1 a day. The education system in Kenya is also burdened by lack of adequate facilities and teachers. Of the approximately 600,000 pupils who take the national grade eight exams, a little more than half get into secondary schools due to a facilities shortage*. Less than 60,000 go on to attend universities or colleges, mainly due to lack of facilities and the cost of education.

*information from Compassion International, 2015

Prayer in School
Morning prayers in public schools are said in areas of the country that are largely Christian. All children participate in the assembly, but are not punished if they remain silent during prayers. Christian Religious Education (CRE) is a required subject taught throughout the education system.


Kenya became independent from Great Britain on Dec. 12, 1963, and the next year joined the British Commonwealth. Jomo Kenyatta, a member of the large Kikuyu ethnic group, became Kenya's first president. Kenyatta ruled as President until his death in 1978. Daniel Moi took over as Kenya’s 2nd president in a constitutional succession. The country was a one-party state until 1992 when it finally became a multi-party democracy. 

Elections were held in 1992 and 1997 with large opposition parties having a strong run at the presidency, but violence and fraud kept Moi in power. After his retirement in 2002, Moi willingly handed over the presidency to the winning candidate Mwai Kibaki. During the 2007 election, there were even stronger, and more determined, opponents. Kibaki again came out the victor but strong accusations of vote rigging came from opponent Raila Odinga. The contested election spurred 2 months of extreme ethnic violence and civil unrest which resulted in 1,500 deaths and hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes. In August 2010, Kenyans voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new constitution in a national referendum. The new constitution introduced additional checks and balances on executive powers and provided for significant devolution of power and resources to the 47 newly created counties. The first presidential election under the new constitution, occurred on 4 March 2013. Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of founding president Jomo Kenyatta, won the elections by a close margin and was sworn into office on 9 April 2013.