Northward bound; A trip to Marsabit

Ololokwe,one of the most iconic physical feautures in Northern Kenya
Ololokwe,one of the most iconic physical feautures in Northern Kenya

Eastleigh never sleeps. It is 2 am on a Friday morning. I have been tossing and turning all night, kept awake by loud music and khat-fueled conversations in unfamiliar tongues outside, slowly counting the hours to departure time. I am in Blue Sky Lodge on 10th Street because I have a 3 am bus to catch.

Eastleigh, a world unto itself and hitherto unknown to me, is an eastern suburb of Nairobi predominantly inhabited by immigrants from the Horn of Africa hence its moniker, Little Mogadishu. It has impressed itself upon the popular Nairobi imagination as a dangerous, forbidding place teeming with thousands of undocumented Somalis deemed shrewd businessmen by day and ruthless al Shabaab operatives by night. In all my years of living in this city, I have never once ventured there. Such was the depth of my fear and ignorance that on the previous afternoon, I had had to seek directions from a matatu (14-seater minivan taxi, public service vehicle) tout in the city centre. He instructed me to take a number 8 matatu, alight at Garage and look for 10th Street.

At Garage I am overwhelmed by the chaos. Shiny new malls, restaurants and hotels with names evocative of the Horn such as Banadir and Ayaan overlook roadside vendors of a wide array of goods: foodstuffs, clothing, shoes, mobile phones, airtime vouchers, household electronics and jewellery. Boda boda (motorcycle) and mkokoteni (wooden handcart) operators ferry people and goods through throngs of buibui-clad women deep in animated conversation. It is an insalubrious place: I constantly dodge mounds of litter and cavernous potholes half-filled with stagnant water. I feel myself getting worked up over the human traffic and poor sanitation and so I opt to look at the bigger picture instead. For many this is a place of refuge from fractured and troubled lands, a harbinger of promise and prosperity.

I ask for directions to 10th Street where I had been told I would find buses to Moyale, the border town between Kenya and Ethiopia. It is not the methodically planned western style street I had anticipated given its name, but a muddy road lined with small businesses of all sorts, a casino included. The smell of berbere (a mix of powdered chilli pepper and other spices that is a fixture of Ethiopian cuisine) and roasting coffee beans, the sight of jebena (traditional coffee jugs) and signs written in Amharic script, and the melodic habesha (people from the Horn) wailing wafting through the air all point to a strong Ethiopian presence. An Ethio-Kenya leather shop and a Best Ethiopian Restaurant serving injera (large sourdough flatbread made from fermented teff, a grain particular to Ethiopia) and assorted wot (stews) further cement the vision. It is as if I have been magically transported to Addis Ababa. If Eastleigh is Little Mogadishu, then 10th Street is Little Addis. Later, I learn that 10th Street is indeed the predominantly Ethiopian area of Eastleigh, where people simply wait. To pass the time, they learn Swahili and English, obtain papers and forge new identities. Some grow into Kenya and stay while others proceed to the allegedly greener pastures of South Africa or America.

I see the Moyale Liner booking office and hurriedly make my way to it. Some men load gunias (hessian sacks) bursting at the seams into the bus, others chew miraa (khat), others buy tickets. They look at me with curiosity, who is this unlikely traveller, this Bantu heading north at a time when those like her are under threat? This unrestrained curiosity, I would be told later, was a feature of the waria (Somali word used to refer to Somalis, deemed pejorative by some) survival instinct honed by years of living by sheer wit and grit in hostile environments which forced one to sift and grade people into groups: civilian or police, friend or foe. Questions of who one is and what one is after are crucial.

I book a seat to Marsabit for Sh1500. Handing my ticket, the seller advises me to find lodging in Eastleigh so as not to miss the 3 am check-in ‘later tonight’. Why not ‘tomorrow morning’, I wonder. I make my way home across the city to quickly stuff some clothes into a bag. At around 8 pm, I am back in Eastleigh, more assured this time. I knock on three different doors on 10th Street but found no room, but my fourth attempt is a success. I am casting a critical eye over the amateurishly painted wildlife on the blue walls of the Blue Sky Lodge when a scantily dressed woman saunters past me leaving me convinced that I have landed in a den of depravity but at Sh300 for a self-contained room, I stay. The noise outside eliminates any possibility of sleep and when the alarm on my mobile goes off at 2 am, I am wide awake.

After my ablutions, I pick up my bag, bid the night askari (watchman) goodbye and made my way to the Moyale Liner booking office a few metres away. A madman holds forth while drinking a suspicious-looking milky liquid from a recycled plastic water bottle. An enterprising Somali mama (older woman) in a green hijab comes round with a huge thermos flask of tea and chapatis to aid the travellers fend off sleep and the early morning Nairobi cold. A man set himself the task of sweeping away the rubbish in front of the booking office and setting it alight on the muddy road. Majority of the travellers are Cushitic in appearance and dress but I cannot tell whether they are Kenyan from the north or north-east, Ethiopian or Eritrean, Somali or Djiboutian. The Sudanese men are easier to identify. Distinctively tall, lean and dark, they converse loudly in their language, whether Nuer or Dinka I cannot tell. I overhear an Akamba man, a Bantu from Eastern Province, alerts someone in Isiolo of his impending arrival on his mobile. I am the lone Bantu from Western Kenya, and my unusual presence arouses the curiosity of some. (Kenya has three main ethnic groups: Bantu, Nilotes and Cushites. These groups are further divided into many subdivisions. Interethnic tensions have stalked the country for decades, mostly over inequality in political representation and resource allocation.)

At around quarter to three, we board the bus. Once we are ensconced in its relative warmth, an Islamic preacher man enters and walks the length of the bus preaching, praying, and soliciting alms. If you stretch your arm in generosity, he says, Allah will remember you. He collects a few coins and uttering words of thanks, wishes us a safe journey. Immediately after his departure, a peddler of herbal remedies takes his place touting miracle cures for many maladies.

Promptly at 3 am, the rival bus Moyale Raha (bliss) from down the street bypasses us as it sets off on its route. My talkative neighbour declares that Moyale Liner’s tagline ‘We Lead the Leaders’ is clearly a lie. Meanwhile, the medicine man warns us about the numerous health risks awaiting us in the north. The worms in Moyale and Sololo are as big as snakes he says but fear not, for only Sh100 he will provide you with a very effective dewormer. In addition to taking care of our intestinal health, he advises us to take regular baths in spite of water scarcity in those parts. He has a long-lasting soap suited for the hard water of the north which he assures us will lather luxuriously, as well as a miraculous blood purifier that works wonders for malaria, typhoid and amoeba simultaneously.

Marsabit Photo By Basele
Marsabit Photo By Basele

At 3.30 am, we set off. I look at the full moon through the window. Later I would learn that the Borana ayyantu (timekeepers) had developed a lunar calendar around 300 BC. The Cushitic Borana are the dominant ethnic group in Marsabit County, my destination in upper Eastern province, which is home to around 292,000 people from 14 ethnic groups including the Cushitic Rendille and Gabbra as well as the Nilotic Samburu and Turkana.

An hour and a half later, the bus comes to a stop and I am jolted awake. The medicine man announces that it is prayer and toilet break time. Most of the travellers descend to take care of their physical or religious needs and after fifteen minutes, we resume the journey.

Day breaks at 6 am as we traverse a freezing cold Nyeri shrouded in mist. My neighbour is fascinated by the opaque cover over the trees. He could never live there, he says, he would die from cold. I ask him where he is from and he says Moyale. He is too accustomed to the sweltering heat of the arid north to adjust to the low temperatures of the central highlands. An hour later, we cross the Equator at Nanyuki. I doze off again and wake up at two hours later, when we arrive in Isiolo where we stop for breakfast. I have sweet tea and kaimati (small doughnut-like bun) at a restaurant owned by a cheerful Somali man. Once on the road again, I spy a Madiba Hotel, a South African flag painted on it. We pass a police barrier. A sign says that it is 277 km to Marsabit.

9.15 am. A sign informs us that we are now in Ngaremara. The green forests of Central Province have given way to vast expanses of parched earth riddled with acacia trees and occasional traditional huts. Hardy herds of sheep, goats and cows scamper off the tarmac as we approach. My neighbour tells me that this is Turkana and Rendille territory, lands stained by the blood from perpetual conflict between pastoralist communities competing for ever scarcer resources.

9.24 am. We cross the Ewaso Nyiro River; a primary school geography textbook fact comes to life.

Somewhere near Archers Post, training ground for the British military and gateway to the north, a signpost says ‘Postbank Mashinani (grassroots)’. We drive past many Investments: Jadi Investments, Daniel Leipiris Investments and others.

9.40 am. First camel sighting, an entire herd. My excitement knows no bounds. Even the lack of network bars on my phone fails to dampen my spirits. We are now really, truly in the north. We have arrived.

10.15 am. We cross the Sero Levi River. It is dry.

10.56 am. We pass Ololokwe, the stunning flat-topped mountain made famous by Safaricom (mobile phone operator) advertisements. This is one of many magnificent mountains soaring over the arid landscape.

11.05 am. Within seven hours of exiting Nairobi, we are in Marsabit County. Laisamis, the first of its four constituencies, is very hot. We peer out in astonishment at bare-breasted women and men whose shukas (sarongs) blowing in the wind inadvertently revealing a glimpse of genitalia as they go about their activities, taking the scorching heat in their stride. My neighbour says he wants to take a picture of this barbarous abomination and post it on Facebook. The road has become very rough. We see trucks and cranes heaving and hauling earth and my neighbour says with authority, “China knows how to build roads.” The driver is speeding over the bad stretches of road and throwing us up and down. Someone in the back tells him that he is carrying human beings not camels.

Marsabit demystified

Making our way through Laisamis, we see several men in traditional attire with AK47s slung nonchalantly across their chests or backs and they look to me like they might be in the habit of killing for recreation. But they make no attempt to waylay the bus; they simply go on conversing and tending to their cattle. Later I am informed that they are KPR or Kenya Police Reserve, and that the rifles are issued by the government for self-protection against cattle rustlers, a common security threat in these parts. Sheep and goats tended by small boys and the occasional camel nibbling on higher acacia branches dot the rugged terrain. So far I have counted three dry river beds. My neighbour is also puzzled about the thinly inhabited dry lands, “Is there a drought here?”

The tarmac ended a while ago and the rutted road has made the drive jarring and occasionally painful, not to mention the many unpredictable and frightening diversions into the bush. The passengers have all been jolted awake by the scorching sun and the rough driving which has us flying off our seats and slamming back hard down again. Insults are hurled at the driver in many languages.

At around 1 pm, we cross the police barrier marking the entry point into the outskirts Marsabit town. The landscape has changed: contrary to my expectations of harsh desert and meagre vegetation, lush greenery abounds, the soil is a rich red and the temperature is pleasantly warm. Those of us disembarking in Marsabit do so, and the bus continues on its way to Moyale. My friend is there to welcome me at the stage. As we walk along, he points out the main sights which are few. A couple of bank branches, namely Equity and Cooperative. Signposts and 4WDs for a variety of aid organisations: Food for the Hungry (More than 70 per cent of households in Marsabit County depend on food aid according to the Governor), USAID, UKAID. A cluster of small businesses emblematic of a small Kenyan town: M-Pesa (mobile money) agents, photocopy services, cafes, salons, tailors, agricultural goods, mama mbogas (vegetable vending women), butchers, lodgings, men selling football t-shirts, Ethiopian ones are popular here, emblazoned with Seladhin’s number 7, or operating boda bodas and so on.

Most of the women are dressed conservatively, in ankle-length dresses and skirts and many wear head scarves. One also spots many Rendille women wearing traditional attire and heavily adorned with brightly coloured elaborate beaded jewellery on their heads, earlobes, wrists, ankles and necks. The rare jeans-clad or shorter-skirted woman is most likely from Meru, or a mzungu (white) aid worker. The men sport more westernized fashions, although many men can be seen wearing shukas, kanzus (tunics) and military fatigues, as well as hats of the traditional or Muslim variety. In addition, rungus (short knobbed stick) and walking sticks are a common sight here, as well as AK47s and the occasional panga (machete).

In this town is how everybody seems to know each other. People stop to exchange lengthy greetings in Borana or Swahili, enquiring about the health and wellbeing of fathers, mothers, children, wives, husbands, and responses are given in great detail. My friend stopped to greet at least 20 people on the way. Also very common on the roads of Marsabit are arrogant sheep and goats who think they have the right to share the road with human beings.

My friend and I head past a Sakumatt (a play on Nakumatt, the largest supermarket chains in East Africa, we are in Saku, Marsabit’s second constituency) to Psalms Café where we have a hearty meal of roasted goat, ugali (hard porridge from maize, national dish) and kachumbari (diced onion and tomato salsa). Ordinarily I avoid meat altogether but since this is pastoralist territory where livestock is the predominant source of food and income, I feel it would be rude and ridiculous to harp on about my self-righteous vegetarian inclinations. Amidst other insights on the north, he informs me that Turkana goats are the tastiest, despite of the lack of vegetation there. He lamented about two of his friends who had promised him to take him to Turkana and feed him properly on goat but had reneged.

Later he would express surprise at my poor eating habits: somehow he has been led to believe that Luhya women have enormous appetites so he is surprised to encounter one who pecks like a hen. At Al Subra Hotel where the waiters looked suspiciously like cousins ferried in from Ethiopia and the tea was sweet and flavoured with cardamom, he was however pleased to see that I do drink copious amounts of tea like any self-respecting Luhya ought to. This was a valuable conversation for both of us, and we discussed the prejudices and preconceived ideas that Kenyans form about their compatriots from various parts of the country and how to overcome them.

I, for example, am ashamed to confess my own staggering ignorance: despite my frequent loud assertions on the need for Kenyans to make a deliberate effort to learn more about each other in order to fight the scourge of tribalism, I knew almost nothing about Marsabit or its people, the Borana, Burji, Rendille and Gabbra whom I had last encountered in a primary school textbook. Neither did I know that the expansive Marsabit County at almost 67,000 sq. km. occupies 13 per cent of Kenya’s landmass, or that elephants roam in its forests, and could sometimes be seen from Psalms Café although their numbers were diminishing.

Later that evening we went for a drink at one of the three local watering holes where we had a conversation with some people working in the aid sector who were quick to make generalisations about the inhabitants of northern Kenya, who were lumped together as ‘those pastoralists who cannot be helped’. Naturally my friend jumped to the north’s defence and shook with rage as he explained the danger of a single story. He has his own initiative to counter the negative narrative of the nebulous north, and that is what we spent most of the next day pursuing. I will not divulge the details here, but let me just say that it is a commendable initiative (printing and distributing the first local newspaper to give the locals a voice).

After our long day of hard work, we met up with another friend who regaled us with tales of his childhood herding cows and camels in Ngurunit. He shared some proverbs which are storehouses of history and culture, for example on the role of the moran in Rendille society and on the sorio religious festival which shares remarkable similarities to the Jewish passover. I also learned a lot about the perceptions and roles of girls and women in pastoralist societies, often marginalized, which explained the numerous initiatives geared towards the empowerment of the girl child that I was seeing around. We had wanted to go to the Kalacha Cultural Festival to learn more about the northern people’s way of life but due to logistical difficulties, we were unable to do so. I spent the next two days exploring the lush green landscapes, admiring the distant blue hills and enjoying the fresh air of Marsabit. One of the most astonishing sights here is the heavy mist in the morning. It also rained quite heavily this morning, which explains the robust sukuma wiki (kale) crop that I have been seeing in people’s shambas (gardens).

Conversations with the locals over the next few days are a revelation: a journalist who has been investigating two extrajudicial killings in the area, cartridges found at the murder sites have been traced back to KPR rifles. Also, he tells us of corrupt government officials selling relief food in shops, food which should be given free. A women’s rights activist who fights against domestic violence and female genital mutilation, and runs a small kiosk on the side where she sells generously portioned drinks and snacks. A boda boda operator who gives me a free ride upon realising that I was lost and adamantly refuses to accept payment. Three little girls who tell me the name of the place where I am staying, so that I do not get lost next time. An old man who grabs my arm and steers me out of the path of a herd of cows heading home, I had been distracted admiring the sun sinking into the horizon. Another old man standing outside Sakuu Primary School near the Lutheran church who insists on shaking my hand in greeting and giving me the school’s history. A friend who goes out of his way to offer me a place to stay during my visit. The maalim at the madrassa who gently shepherds the group of young boys who would much rather continue their game of football into class. The many people who offer gratitude and support for my friend’s venture. Such is the warmth and generosity of the people of Marsabit.

The Return

We leave Marsabit a little after 6 am. Our boda boda had ferried us through the early morning mist and cold from Shauri Yako to the Shell petrol station where the Land Cruiser that would take us to Isiolo awaited. ‘Brokers’ whose job it was to find passengers travelling to Isiolo were negotiating fares and adding a little bit on top for khat. Passengers wrap jackets and blankets around themselves to ward off the cold. The driver phones the stragglers and threatens to leave without them. Finally it was time to leave. I sat up front with the driver, a broker and a little boy. In the back of the Cruiser were 13 seats, all occupied. We zoom off towards Loglogo in Laisamis, and as the radio was not working, I was entertained by the conversation between the Kikuyu (most populous ethnic group in Kenya, famed for their mercantilism) driver and the Borana broker.

The mist recedes as we go further south. Expanses of dry grassland stretch out before us, the blue hues of the mountains merge into those of the sky in the distant horizon and I wonder what complex geological processes fashioned this desolate beauty. The driver skilfully negotiates the untarmacked road while conversing with the broker on a variety of subjects ranging from late passengers to the al Shabaab threat. The latter topic cropped up when we encountered our first police check on the outskirts of Marsabit. The officer who is given a Sh100 ‘handshake’ by the driver does not bother to check our IDs which leads the driver to wonder out loud as he speeds off, what if he had been carrying members of al Shabaab? The broker takes to complaining about Kenya’s lax security and porous borders. This would never happen in Ethiopia or Uganda, he said, countries whose tight security he extolled at length. He then launches into an obscure stream of commentary on national insecurity.

He cites a recent incident of a bust that had occurred at Moyale, where sophisticated communications equipment had been seized from suspected al Shabaab members trying to cross into Kenya. He claims that this was the same kind of equipment that had been used to destabilize communications during the Mpeketoni attack (insert date). Terrorism had gone digital. Meanwhile, he says, the Kenyan government was saddled with outdated technology. He does have a few words of praise for the government though. He says that they have succeeded in infiltrating the mosques, planting spies to identify the religious leaders responsible for radicalising the youth. He says that Islam was a religion of peace, and that what had been found in the mosques in Mombasa had been planted there by enemies of Islam, namely politicians and security officers. The driver is visibly uncomfortable with this conversation and so he changes the topic to his adventures in South Sudan.

He has many beefs with the Sudanese. The first goes thus; in his first foray to Juba, he had been arrested and heavily fined for driving on the wrong side of the road. The second: the Sudanese did not allow you to fornicate with their women unless you intended to marry them so he had been forced to curtail his ambitions in that direction. As if that was not bad enough, the climate was hot and inhospitable. And what was worse, they were an inherently violent people who for no reason he could fathom spoke Arabic. He advises us never to visit South Sudan ever. By then we have arrived at the second checkpoint where he parted with another handshake. The broker wonders how much money the corrupt officers make taking handshakes from each passing vehicle. He suggests replacing the police officers with army officers. Army officers, he says, are too proud to take bribes and would be more rigorous in their checks to ensure that no al Shabaab snuck into Kenya through Moyale which was now the alternate route since things in Mandera on the Somali side had heated up with the recent murder of civilians by al Shabaab.

I am quiet throughout their exchanges, mostly tending to the silent little boy who has a nasty cough and whose mother is in the back.  Otherwise I contemplate the landscape ahead. There are no vehicles besides ours, except for the occasional Chinese-owed cranes throwing up veils of dust as they carve roads into existence, or a long-distance truck driver chomping furiously on khat to stay awake on this last stretch through to Ethiopia, or an old Rendille man in a flimsy shuka crossing the road like a gazelle and drawing the ire of drivers. The broker says that somebody should advise the Chinese to put bumps on the road or else there would be many casualties. We would encounter several. At one of the checks, an officer tells us that a Land Cruiser just like ours has been in an accident at Ngaremara. When we get there, we stop at the casualty spot to see what had happened. A herdsman tells us that five Ethiopians had perished in last night’s crash. Later near Nanyuki we would see the body of a fallen boda boda operator lain neatly by the roadside, his helmet placed on top of his face and his motorbike beside him. We all share the same sobering thought: it could have been any of us.

We arrive in Merille, which my friend says is better known as mwisho wa lami (end of the tarmac). But depending on which direction you are coming from, it could also be mwanzo wa lami (beginning of the tarmac). We have succulent Rendille goat for breakfast. My friend the goat enthusiast and connoisseur praises the goats of these parts. Goats raised by pastoralists in arid lands are tastier than those raised on cabbage by farmers in agricultural areas, he informs me with gravitas. Cabbage-fed goats eat the same things as human beings which makes them tasteless, is one theory. Discerning pastoralists who on visiting Marsabit town, refused to eat the watered down flesh of town goats for this reason. The driver says that this is the only stop on the road whose name he knows, because he is mtu wa tumbo, (a person of the stomach). After this long break, we bid farewell to the outpost and speed off on the shiny new tarmac. At this juncture, the broker has swapped seats with a young girl in hijab who keeps chatting and giggling into her mobile. He goes into the back and she comes to the front. Seeing that we are not as garrulous as his friend the broker, the driver decides to entertain himself with some khat instead, which he chews with cashew nuts. Not wanting to fall asleep myself, I engage him in conversation.

It turns out that this is his first month on the Marsabit-Isiolo route. He used to be a miraa farmer in Maua but due to the UK ban on miraa imports, his income dwindled and so he entered the transport business in order to be able to raise school fees for his children. He used to transport miraa from Meru to Wajir and Mandera but due to the increasing insecurity in those parts, he had opted to transport people instead. It is less lucrative: the previous day he had ferried only three passengers from Marsabit to Isiolo, but he is optimistic that once the tarmac is complete, the north will open up and he will purchase several matatus to ply this route.

Four or five cursory police checks and obligatory handshakes later, Isiolo welcomes us with a light drizzle. The little boy utters his first words of the day, “Baba yangu!” (my father) and made his way towards him while his mother struggles with their luggage. I wonder why she had entrusted her son to people she did not know. I had witnessed the same faith in total strangers in Marsabit at two different shops where the owners had left my friend and me in the shop and dashed off briefly. I could not imagine the same happening in Nairobi.

The eight of us continuing on to Nairobi find a shuttle and after some protracted haggling with brokers and the driver, we agree on the fare (Sh800) set off. The driver wanted to embark on a strange route that does not sit well with those passengers familiar with this journey and they shout him down, forcing him to use the route that they know. The journey proceeds well with the exception of the driver’s constant fiddling with the radio and us getting lost in Naro Moru, the base of Mt Kenya (highest peak in the country, not visibile) where the driver citing a huge hole on the normal road diverges off the road into a peri-urban settlement in the middle of nowhere. We ask a few passers-by where to rejoin the road to Nairobi. One of the passengers, a Muslim man, tells the driver not to take us to Nyeri as he did not want to get hacked to death. This reminds me of a man we had encountered at the Ababuro in Marsabit who said that he had escaped death by a whisker that very day in Nyeri by panga-wielding Christians who were avenging the people from Nyeri who had been killed in the Mandera attack. What had saved him he said, was that he carried two IDs, one with a Christian name and the other with a Muslim one. When the panga had been held to his neck, he had shown the ‘right’ ID. He was toasting his survival.

Eventually we found the road again and found ourselves stuck in Nairobi traffic on the Thika superhighway some time after 4 pm.

Final thoughts

To understand Kenya, I had always thought that I had to look without, to juxtapose Kenya against her neighbours. But this time I had decided to look within, hoping to find the answers that I sought by interrogating my own Kenyanness, by confronting my fears and prejudices. This was a journey with a sincere objective. For a few days my chief preoccupation would be to explore the north, to attempt to understand its neglect.

Travel to the north is challenging, the lack of investment in infrastructure is reflective of the systemic social, political and economic marginalization by colonial and post-colonial governments which opted to channel resources into the development of the agricultural regions in the centre and the west of the country. Its inhabitants retain traditional ways of life no longer found further south, due to their nomadic lifestyle and the inhospitable terrain, they have had little contact with outsiders and while for me as a jaded Nairobian this simplicity is a refreshing departure from the rapaciousness of the capital, I cannot help but ponder on the exclusion of a vast swathe of our country in the development process. After all, it is this isolation that has fuelled impoverishment and insecurity.

But the new constitution of 2010 which changed the country’s management of power and resources seems to be paving the way for development and equality. With devolution, county governments in previously marginalized areas are allocated funds by the central government but have their own say in how to allocate and which development projects to pursue. In the last fiscal year 2013/2014, the county allocated Sh280 million to boost agricultural production and combat food insecurity. Livestock is the economic mainstay of the county and there are plans for a Sh300 million abattoir, and there are plans to establish a value-adding meat processing plant. The ambitious Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) project corridor is underway with the aim of opening up the north to harness its resources and transforming it into an economic powerhouse, enhancing cross-border trade with Ethiopia, whose 80 million strong inhabitants are a huge potential market for Kenyan products and services. The vast tourism potential of the north remains untapped due to insecurity and inadequate infrasture: archaeological fossil sites and sandy white beaches on the shores of Lake Turkana, Chalbi Desert, the crater lakes and elephants of Marsabit and others. As the repercussions of the terrorism incidents in Mandera reverberate through the country, there are deadly forces threatening to pull our country apart and unravel our fragile peace. We can no longer afford to ignore the north.

NB:The highway from Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale is now fully tarmac. You can enjoy a smooth ride all the way to the Kenya-Ethiopia border.

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