Overview of Marsabit County

Marsabit County, set in the former Eastern Province and some 550km north of Nairobi is the largest county in Kenya covering 70, 961 square kilometres.

Marsabit, Kenya

Marsabit borders three counties; Wajir to the east, Turkana to the west and Isiolo to the south.

It also borders the country of Ethiopia to the north.

The county is said to have been named after a Burji farmer called Marsa who was brought to Marsabit (from Ethiopia) by colonialists to teach the locals how to grow crops.

When his name was called out by his masters, Marsa used to answer "Abet" (Yes in Amharic) and this led to the creation of the name Marsa-Abeit - which later became Marsabit.

Marsabit County Government

Marsabit County constitutes four constituencies: North Horr, Laisamis, Saku and Moyale. The county's top leaders are Mr Ukur Yatani Kanacho (Governor), Mr Isaiah Nakoru (County Commissioner), Godana Hargura (Senator) and Ms Nasra Ibrahim Ibren (Women Representative).

Other top leaders in Marsabit County include Francis Chachu Ganya (MP-North Horr), Joseph Lekuton (MP-Laisamis), Dido Ali Raso (MP-Saku) and Roba Sharu Duba (MP-Moyale).

People of Marsabit County

Marsabit County is home to 291,166 people (male - 52% and female - 48%), according to the 2009 National Census. The county is populated by various ethnic communities including the Cushitic Rendille, Gabbra and Borana as well as the Nilotic Samburu and Turkana.

Marsabit people and camels

Rendille are nomadic pastoralists who mainly live with their camels in the Kaisut Desert. The community greatly values the camel as it is their main source of food – meat and a mixture of milk and blood.

Borana are also nomadic pastoralists living in Saku, Waso and Moyale. They keep cattle and camels, although recently some Borana's living in areas around Mount Marsabit and Kulal have taken up farming. Crops grown in the area include maize, millet, tomatoes, kales and potatoes.

Gabbra, the lions of the desert, mainly live in the Chalbi desert - between Marsabit and Lake Turkana. They keep camels, cattle, goats and sheep although the camel is the most essential to their economy. The Gabbra are the most educated among the ethnic groups of Marsabit.

The Turkana mainly rear goats and donkeys and are usually found in Loiyangalani. On the other hand, Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists who mainly keep cattle and goats. They are found in Laisamis, Karare and Korr.

Religion and Culture

Close to 40% of the people living in Marsabit County are Christians, 32% are Muslims, while 28% adhere to other religions.

Among the ethnic groups, men are traditionally responsible for taking care of animals, while women are tasked with taking care of their children and performing day-to-day chores in the home. They are also responsible for the construction (weaving) of portable grass huts for their families.

Boys usually accompany their fathers to the grazing fields, while girls are supposed to help their mothers at home mainly by gathering firewood and fetching water.

Over the years, the communities have adopted elements of the modern world such as formal schooling and employment. About 40,000 students are currently enrolled in the county's 126 primary schools, with another 1,100 attending high schools.

Major Towns in Marsabit County

Marsabit:

Marsabit town is the headquarters of Marsabit County. The town, which is set on an extinct volcano - Mount Marsabit - aids the movement of goods between Isiolo and Moyale. It is home to Gabbra, Rendille, Turkana, Samburu, Borana and Burji among other communities.

Moyale:

Located on the border of Kenya and Ethiopia, Moyale is basically two towns in one; the smaller Kenyan Moyale and the bigger Ethiopian Moyale - with the main border running between them. Thanks to its strategic location, Moyale has a vibrant regional livestock market and a flourishing trade market.

Loiyangalani:

Situated on the south-eastern coast of Lake Turkana, near Mount Kulal, Loiyangalani town hosts about 1000 people, mainly Samburu, El Molo and Rendille. It is also home to a growing number of Turkana fishermen who engage in small-scale fishing on the shores of Lake Turkana.

Loiyangalani is fast becoming a popular tourist destination in northern Kenya, thanks to the colourful cultural experiences offered by the communities living in the area.

Climate and Weather

Marsabit is one of the driest counties of Kenya, with temperatures ranging between 10.1° C during the cold months (June and July) and 30.2° C during the hot months (January-March and September-October).

Marsabit receives between 200mm and 1000mm of rainfall per year, with the average precipitation being 254mm. This makes it one of Kenya's driest counties. Most of the rainfall (rainy season) is received in April and November.

Economic Activities

About 80% of the people of Marsabit County are nomadic pastoralists, 10% are small scale farmers and about 7% are business people, with the rest being salaried employees mainly working with the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Some of the NGOs providing employment opportunities in the county include the World Food Programme (WFP), Action Aid, World Vision and the Kenya Red Cross.

Other economic activities in the county include salt mining, gemstones mining, sand harvesting and fishing. Recently, Marsabit has attracted several international oil companies hoping to strike the lucrative commodity in the area.

British oil company Tullow Oil Plc and Canadian Africa Oil Corp are currently drilling wells in Marsabit County, following the discovery of oil in the neighbouring Turkana County in May 2012.

Health Facilities

There are several hospitals and health centres in Marsabit County's major urban centres. Notable healthcare facilities in the county include the Marsabit District Hospital, Moyale District Hospital, Laisamis Health Center and AIC Gatab Hospital in Loiyangalani. These facilities are moderately equipped to provide health services that may be required.

Education in Marsabit County

As of 2013, there are 126 primary schools and 16 high schools in Marsabit County, serving 40,332 and 1,101 students respectively. The county's Teacher to Pupil Ratio is 1: 54 for public primary schools and 1:30 for public high schools.

Some of the top high schools in Marsabit include St. Paul Secondary School, Bishop Cavallera Girls Secondary School, Dr. Godana Memorial Boys Secondary School and Marsabit Boy's High School among others.

Attractions and Places of Interest

Marsabit National Park Kenya

Despite being a semi-arid region, Marsabit County is endowed with several tourist attractions. These include Marsabit National Park, Lake Paradise, Chalbi desert, Lake Turkana, Desert Museum, Sibiloi National Park, among others.

Sitting on 1,554 square km, Marsabit National Park comprises a forested mountain and three impressive crater lakes that provide a habitat to a huge population of animals such as buffalo, elephants, giraffe, zebra, leopard and lion. The park also hosts numerous species of birds.

Travelling to Marsabit County

From Nairobi, Marsabit County is accessed via Nanyuki and Isiolo - a 550km journey that is usually covered in two days due to the bad condition of the road. The 122 km road section between Merille River and Marsabit town is quite rough and is only tackled by 4 by 4 vehicles during the dry season.

There is a bus (Liban Express) that plies the 200km Isiolo-Marsabit route on a daily basis. The bus leaves Isiolo for Marsabit at 8pm arriving at dawn due to the bad condition of the road. For the return leg, the bus leaves Marsabit at 8am arriving in Isiolo at around 2pm.

Marsabit County can also be reached by road from Mombasa via Nairobi, Nanyuki and Isiolo, although the 1,025km journey can be really tiresome.

Marsabit is also accessible by air, with two airstrips - Marsabit Airstrip and Segel Airstip servicing charter aircraft. The Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) is the only organisation offering regular flights from Nairobi (Wilson Airport) to Marsabit every Tuesday and Friday. The flight takes up to an hour depending on the weather.

From Mombasa, travellers can take a flight to Nairobi at the Moi International Airport. Incase the flight is destined for the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), travellers can take a taxi from JKIA to Wilson Airport, a 20-40 minutes drive depending on traffic.

Accommodation

Marsabit National Park offers some of the best accommodation in the county. Marsabit Lodge situated within the park is a popular choice for many travellers. Other accommodation options include Ahmed and Abdul camp-sites near the national park, Al-Yusra Hotel and Hotel Abreham both in Moyale.

Travellers heading to Marsabit can also find accommodation at the Samburu Intrepids Tented Camp in Archer’s Post, about 200km from Marsabit town.

Guest Information:

Banks

Marsabit town has two commercial banks; Equity Bank and the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB). Equity Bank is also present in Moyale and the bank recently opened an agency in Loiyangalani. There is a KCB ATM in the Moyale town.

Shopping

There are many small markets and shops around the major towns in Marsabit County. Handicrafts from the Borana and other communities are some of the items on sale in the markets.

TOP of the Marsabit County

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