Will new roads bring new tourism opportunities for Northern Kenya?


(Posted 10th November 2014)

Kenya’s pre-independence northern districts were for all intent and purpose almost no go areas and even after independence did travelers have to register at the Isiolo police post and give reasons for their journey up north, before being allowed to move on, or in cases being refused to do so.

Immediately after independence did the so called Shifta War, an attempt by Somalia to grab a strip of land and redraw the colonial borders under the pretext of ‘bringing home ethnic Somalis’ ravage the area from 1963 to 1967, before Kenya’s armed forces repelled the invaders and pacified the uprisers, compelling the Somali government in Mogadishu to sign a ceasefire agreement.

Roads, where any existed, were in poor shape and driving from Isiolo to Marsabit and from there to Moyale at the Ethiopian border, could, depending on the weather, take several days.

Yet, the famous expeditions to Lake Turkana, soon after independence renamed from what used to be Lake Rudolf, had to pass some of those routes, especially when returning from Loiyangalani via North Horr and Marsabit, after traveling via Maralal and South Horr to the lake.

In fact even the Samburu National Park, the Buffalo Springs and Shaba Game Reserves were located beyond the barrier, requiring tourist busses to equally sign the register at the police check point before being allowed to proceed. At Archers Point did the road branch off towards Wamba and the approach into the Matthews Range, a wilderness area even today hardly explored and still a refuge for game, as well as individual travelers seeking some solitude away from what they consider maddening crowds.

Marsabit itself also is home to a national park, a green oasis in the middle of an otherwise very dry landscape, where several lakes are part of the park and the forests sprawling across much of its 1.500+ square kilometres.

Subsequently are many of the protected areas further up north in Kenya hardly visited, not Marsabit, not Sibiloi / Koobi Fora, not the Central Island NP on Lake Turkana and not the Maralal Sanctuary.

Tourism planners who are working on building regional clusters however are hopeful that new roads, under planning and also under construction, linking Kenya with the borders of Ethiopia, will help address the issue of accessibility for some of these little gems – Marsabit certainly is one of those – and make it easier for tourists to visit these underexplored parts of Kenya.

Information emerging last week that the highway from Marsabit to Moyale is expected to be ready by the end of next year will be welcomed as good news no doubt as it will eventually create a tarmacked highway from Nairobi via Isiolo and Marsabit to the border with Ethiopia and on to the capital of Addis Ababa.

Besides opening regional trade opportunities will it also allow tourist visitors travelling by road and intent to see the varius attractions along the route, to finally travel safely and with good speeds as opposed to the present day drama of badly rutted murram roads which during the rainy season often become impassable for days at end.

The road link is also part of the LAPSSET corridor which will link the new port of Lamu by railway, highway and pipeline to Ethiopia, with the main junction being Isiolo from where another highway and railway branch then leads on to South Sudan. Great plans for sure for the future and a greater vision even to open up and connect Eastern Africa like it has never been the case before. Click on www.magicalkenya.com for additional information about the country’s tourism attractions or www.kws.go.ke for details on all the national parks and game reserves across the country.

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