Things were certainly looking up when I last visited Busia, a small city in Kenya, in mid-2007. Busia, home to about 60,000 residents, spans Kenya’s western border with Uganda: half the town sits on the Kenyan side and half in Uganda. As befits a border town, Busia is well endowed with gas stations, seedy bars, and hotels catering to the truckers who spend the night on the way from Nairobi to Uganda.
When I visited last June, the city was experiencing an economic renaissance. Busia’s first supermarkets, ATMs, Internet cafés, and car rental businesses were all open, and residential suburbs had formed on the edge of town. The small dukas—shops selling home food supplies and airtime for now-omnipresent cell phones—were freshly painted with advertisements for local dairy products. And most importantly, the road from Kisumu, the economic hub of the region and Kenya’s third largest city, to Busia had become a paved, two-lane highway all the way to the border, expediting trade with Uganda’s productive factories and farmers.
Yet, barely a decade ago, poverty and desperation were pervasive there, as in all of western Kenya.