In the still, sultry atmosphere of KISUMU, the regional capital and Kenya's third largest town, a distinctive smell off the lake – not unpleasant – blows in on a vague breeze from central Africa, but the layout of the town turns its back on the water, focusing instead on its commercial centre and land links to the rest of Kenya. In the well-to-do residential district, guarded mansions are discreetly spaced along quiet, fragrant avenues and occasional expensive cars cruise the broad, colonnaded commercial streets. Even in the poorer quarters, Kisumu retains a great deal of tattered charm.
Kisumu's fortunes were founded on the lucrative lake shipping business, funnelling goods between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and the town suffered badly following the East African Community's break-up. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the port was practically dormant, with little or no merchandise passing through and signs of dereliction everywhere – empty warehouses, broken windows, deserted dockworkers' houses. Commercial shipping services have now resumed on a modest scale and the port sporadically buzzes with activity, but it will take a long stretch of sustained growth to restore Kisumu to its former affluence.