The North Rift

The Land

The more well-known of the geophysical attractions include: the Kerio Valley (a branch of the Great Rift); Mount Elgon; Turkwel Gorge; Lake Turkana; the Cherangany Hills; the Tugen Hills; the Nandi Hills and Lakes Bogoria and Baringo. These and a host of other less famous features inhabit and create lands of hot arid thorn-bush, rich rolling fields of crops, thick impenetrable montane forests and high cold moorlands. In the North Rift it is quite possible to experience all of these and more within a short one-day drive.

The People

Amongst the peoples of the region, the Nandi and their former spiritual leader Koitalel Arap Samoei are famous for their militant fight against the introduction of colonial rule in the early years of the twentieth century. The Turkana are exceptional in their ability to survive in a harsh desert environment and are known for their physical toughness. The pastoralist Pokots are also tough and famed for their endurance, which has been associated with cattle-raiding expeditions into the territories of their neighbours. A very interesting group is the Ilchamus: it has a Masaai / Samburu lineage but lost its herds of cattle and took to fishing in the waters of Lake Baringo. The Abaluhya clans, of which there are many of various backgrounds, are particularly noted for their skill as artisans and cultivators.

The famous long-distance Runners

When one considers the hilly geography of the region and the history and life-styles of its peoples, it is easy to appreciate why it has been pre-eminent in producing the top middle-distance and long distance runners of our time. Kipchoge Keino, Paul Tergat, Henry Rono, Daniel Komen, Wilfred Bungei, Tegla Lorupe, and many others, are household names around the world. Surprisingly, perhaps, many of these present and former athletes can be casually met on the streets of Eldoret, or their local towns, and can be greeted and talked to with friendly informality.

Access to the Region

Eldoret is the commercial and administrative capital of the region. It links to Nairobi via 310 km of good tarmac road (the A104) or, alternatively, through the Eldoret International Airport. Several airlines are operating services to the region from Nairobi and the number of flights is increasing by the month. Recently new air services have been introduced to Kitale and Lodwar in the far north. Other important air links to the North Rift are Nairobi —Lokichogio and Eldoret —Kisumu. Contact the airlines themselves or travel agents (as listed in this guide) as flight times are subject to change.

The Counties of the Region

 

Learn more about:

 

Lake Turkana

Turkana Region

Pokot Region

Trans Nzoia Region

Elgeyo Marakwet Region

Uasin Gishu Region

Nandi Region

Baringo Region

LAKE TURKANA is huge, surrounded by deserts and inhabited by large populations of fish and crocodiles. There are 3 islands in the lake; 2 of which, together with Sibiloi on the eastern shore, constitute a national park. The lake is decreasing in size because of climate change and the damming and utilization for irrigation of its principal water source --- the Omo river which arises in the Ethiopian highlands.
TURKANA is totally desert or semi-desert. The discovery, in its sands and shattered rocks, of some of the oldest and best-preserved fossils of pre-humans and proto-humans and a wide variety of animals points to a wetter and more luxuriant past.
The present inhabitants, the Turkana people (Ngiturkan), were, until recent times, essentially nomadic pastoralists. Some have now turned to fishing. Others are trying a more sedentary life on and around population centers, particularly Lodwar. Some seem to spend most of their time waiting for the next consignment of food aid to arrive. The recent discovery of oil in Turkana has the potential to alter this situation; but only if an equitable part of the oil revenue remains in the county.
POKOT region is hot, semi-arid lowland plains and contrasting cool highlands, the highest of which were clothed in indigenous forest until the recent depredations of man. The Pokot people themselves reflect this dichotomy. Those of the lowlands are semi-nomadic pastoralists and the more traditional. Those of the highlands are cultivators, to a greater or lesser extent, and more influenced by surrounding communities and modern trends. However. the highlanders, just like their brothers of the plains, have a strong "affection" for cattle and will, "when neccessary" steal them from neighbouring communities. To put this into perspective, one needs to realise that a young Pokot man without cows in his boma will get no wife and no prestige to carry his name into future generations.
TRANS NZOIA means "across the river Nzoia" and indicates that, for most visitors, getting there will involve crossing this large river. The Nzoia is the confluence of a number of smaller rivers that drain down from the Cherangany Hills in the east and Mount Elgon in the west.
The huge mass of Mount Elgon dominates the region; the landscape, communications, the economy and even the socio-political divisions. The fertile volcanic soils around the mountain, irrigated by a myriad of mountain streams, produce the highest yields of maize in Kenya. The era of "white-settler" farming also left a legacy of good farming practice and infrastructure that helps to make the region so agriculturally productive.
ELGEYO MARAKWET is a 'long and narrow' region delimited on its eastern side by the Kerio river winding through the hot, semi-arid Kerio Valley. In the west, 1000m higher, are cool highlands. Separating the two is a continuous escarpment. Trending north, the highlands gradually rise even higher to culminate in the Cherangany Hills. The inhabitants of the region are the Keiyo (in the south) and the Marakwet (in the north); two closely related tribes. The peculiar geography poses challenges of communication. The people were, in the past, also challenged by the topography and chose to live on the escarpment and move up and down seasonally to plant crops and acquire firewood and grazing for their livestock. They have occasionally been called "the cliff dwellers" ----a poorly descriptive term perhaps but indicative of the extremes of altitude they had to exploit in order to survive.
UASIN GISHU is an extensive plain that is an extension of the rich volcanic soils of Trans Nzoia. The name is a corruption of the Maasai words "Guasu Ng'ishu" (spelling arbitrary) meaning "stream of cattle". For many of the visitors to the region in the early 20th century the name would surely have been different. "Unending stream of wildlife" would have been a better description, for the plain was teeming with antelope, giraffe, zebra, rhino and their attendant carnivores. All were wiped out in less than half a century. For the "white-settlers" who came to the windswept plateau to break the land and establish large-scale farms, the gun was used almost as much as the plough. In one year alone 7000 zebra were shot (using government bullets) and 2/= paid out for each tail by the District Commissioner.
The business and social center for the settlers was Eldoret (which acquired its name in 1912). This is now one of the largest and fastest-growing towns in Kenya. Strangely, the "city fathers" and other luminaries are showing no inclination to celebrate the baptismal centenary.
NANDI district is the home of the Nandi tribe who are famous for their resistance to the introduction of British colonial rule. The British brought "white-settlers" and the railway and much more; but also, and likely to be forgotten, tea --- or. as it is sometimes called. "char" or "chai" (kiswahili). India could not supply the demand for 'tea leaves' by the millions of tea-drinkers in the Empire. Large tracts of the Kenya highlands were turned to this task --- much of it in Nandi District. The tea estates were carved out of the beautiful indigenous forests. The estates are still there and are the leading source of income for the district and export-earnings for the nation. Much of the forest also still remains. but is always under threat by "developers" and a rising population.
BARINGO, once considered rather remote, is now well connected to the west and south by tarmac roads. The region consists of a north-south-aligned spine of uplands with valleys on either side. The eastern valley, the Baringo valley, contains two closely-located lakes; these are Lake Baringo (fresh water) and Lake Bogoria (alkaline). Most visitors to the region visit these lakes --- many to enjoy the unique variety of birds found in their vicinity. Good hotels are available near each of the two.
The volcanic history of the region is very evident. In the highlands it may be reflected in severely contorted rock formations, while in the valleys it is displayed as hot springs, geysers and steam-jets. Baringo is destined to supply the whole country with a great amount of geothermally-generated electricity.