The people, the land and its glories

Friday December 14 2012

Over the past year or so, teams from the National Museums of Kenya, 50 Treasures of Kenya Trust and the Kenya Tourism Board have been carrying out excursions throughout the country aimed at identifying the 50 treasures. Photos/FILE

On December 12, Kenya entered its 50th year since Independence. What can Kenyans feel proud of as they start counting down towards their Golden Jubilee? National anthem, dress, monuments, history?

There is now an initiative to establish a list of treasures that Kenyans can feel proud of.

“We are doing this in connection with the 50th anniversary celebrations. As from December 12 this year, there will be a single treasure for each year of Independence,” said Latifa Swaleh, a public relations officer at the 50 Treasures of Kenya Trust.

“These 50 treasures will then be used to encourage Kenyans to explore the beauty of their own country and adjust the nation’s picture abroad in order to attract more visitors and investors,” she added.

Over the past year or so, teams from the National Museums of Kenya, 50 Treasures of Kenya Trust and the Kenya Tourism Board have been carrying out excursions throughout the country aimed at identifying the 50 treasures.

The following list has been put together after a preliminary research and documentation mission and short-listing by a committee comprising Kenyan professionals and dignitaries.



1. The people of Kenya / iconic figures

Kenya can rightfully claim the title of Cradle of Humankind because some of the earliest traces of human ancestors, dating over 25 million years ago, have been found in the country. The country is also home to a colourful diversity of over 42 ethnicities known to be hardworking and enterprising. Many of its citizens have earned worldwide recognition and awards. The list of iconic Kenyan figures includes Paul Tergat, Mohamed Amin, Jomo Kenyatta, James Mwangi, Kipchoge Keino, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Richard Leakey and Wangari Maathai.

2. Innovation / technology / medicine / education

Kenyan scientists and innovators are leading in major innovations including possible breakthroughs in the treatment of HIV/Aids, a malaria vaccine, mobile money transfer and banking, software app development for agriculture and health and the pioneering Ushahidi disaster response system, not to mention the country’s remarkable jua kali industry.

3. Democracy

While as many as 50 African countries had gone through civil war or some form of civil unrest by the early 1990s, Kenya has been a relatively stable and peaceful democratic nation.
Kenyan society has passed through colonial rule and one-party rule to multiparty democracy and now enjoys one of the most progressive Bills of Rights in the world after the implementation of the new Constitution on August 27, 2011. Its free media and the freedom of speech elevate Kenya over many other states.

4. Arts (literature / music / dance / theatre / fashion)

The country’s artistic talents are a world-class with outstanding expressions in jewellery, handicrafts, performance art, music, painting, sculpture and clothing (left).
Kenyan textiles such as the kanga, leso and vitenges have been adopted in different parts of the world as well as its musical genres that range from traditional to popular music such as afro-fusion, afro-jazz, genge, kapuka and taarab.

5. Traditional knowledge

Prominent cultures like those of the Maasai and Swahili communities attract thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in revenue yearly.
Initiation rites like naming ceremonies, circumcision (right), weddings and funerals, cultural festivities, traditional clothing, food, local languages, housing and use of herbs for healing are among the hallmarks of Kenya’s cultures.

6. Sports

There are proposals to include the Safaricom Safari Sevens in the World Seven Series. Kenyan athletes are internationally acclaimed for their dominance in track events while sporting events like the Rhino Charge, Nairobi Stanchart Marathon and Lewa Downs Marathon attract visitors from all over the world.
Sports personalities of international fame include Kipchoge Keino, David Rudisha, Paul Tergat, Pamela Jelimo, Henry Wanyoike, Humprey Kayange, Musa Otieno, McDonald Mariga and Janet Wanja.

7. Boni and Dodori National Reserves

This is the home of the ancient people of Aweer. It has extensive lowland rainforests, rich fauna, the rare Hirola antelope and has a huge future potential because of the new Lamu port project.

8. Lamu Archipelago

The old Lamu Town is a World Heritage Site. Lamu has a lively Swahili culture, traditional dhow-building, Maulidi and the Lamu Festival, unique historic Swahili architecture and outstanding museums, vast mangrove forests full of wildlife and avifauna, untouched sandy beaches, impressive archaeological sites such as Faza Fortress and Takwa ruins.

9. Lower Tana and Tana Delta

This is the delta of Kenya’s longest river and is sometimes referred to as the “little Okawango.” It boasts six different communities — fishermen, herdsmen, farmers as well as gatherers who have adopted their lifestyles to the specific rhythm of flooding and receding of the river. The Arawale National Reserve and Tana River Primate Reserve with its riverine forests on lower Tana were created to protect the unique wildlife and ecosystems in the delta.

10. Central Coast

The areas of Malindi, Watamu and Kilifi offer comfort, good eating, nightlife facilities, local Swahili culture, game fishing, water sports, trekking and bird watching. Watamu and Malindi marine national parks offer the best opportunities globally for whale shark and manta ray sightings while the Arabuko Sokoke forest offers butterfly and birdwatching and boasts four types of vegetation.
The historical town of Gede is romantically overgrown by tropical rainforest; there are landscape of white beaches, mangrove lined creeks and tropical gardens producing coconuts, cashewnuts and mangos.

11. Mombasa

Mombasa is East Africa’s biggest harbour. The town has a multitude of religious and ethnic communities.
Its exceptional architecture includes the World Heritage Site of Fort Jesus, remarkable British colonial architecture, the protected Old Town with fine examples of Swahili and Indian city houses, the historic Al Mandry Mosque and the Sikh temple.
Mombasa was the entry point for British colonial rule and Christian missionaries fighting slavery as Frere Town and Rabai show, where the first missionary station in the hinterland was based.

12. South Coast

Diani Beach is well known for its beaches, clear waters and green coconut trees and big international resorts.
Tiwi Beach caters for individual travellers while farther south there are small fishing villages and impressive mangrove forests.
The World Heritage Holy Kaya forests, cultural and spiritual centres for the Mijikenda people, are a treasure trove of rare plants, butterflies and birds.
Shimoni and Vanga towns are historic sites from the days of slavery and early colonialism.
There is an incredible underwater world in Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park, game fishing in world famous Pemba Channel, dhow safaris to Wasini Island, safaris to Shimba Hills National Park and Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary offering a mosaic of impressive forest and savannah, waterfalls, the last specimen of the rare sable antelope and impressive herds of elephants.

13. The Kenyan Railway

The railway line led to the creation of the modern state of Kenya and the capital of Nairobi, and connects the most diverse parts of the country, bisecting the magnificent landscapes of Tsavo, Rift Valley and Western Kenya.

14. Tsavo East And Taita
This is the second biggest conservation area in Africa and hosts an incredible multitude of fauna, the famous red elephants, unrivalled vastness, Lakes Jipe and Chala, Mzima Springs and the crocodile infested rivers of Galana and Tsavo.
The area has vast areas savannah and bush, Mars-like lava flows, impressive rock climbing sites, historic remains from World War I, the huge Rhino Sanctuary, Taita and Sagalla Hills, Mt Kasigau, hiking and bird watching and the rich cultural heritage of the Taita people.

15. Tsavo West

16. Amboseli and Chyulu National Parks

This is the most photographed scenery in Africa. The Chyulu Range, made up of volcanoes and lava flows, is said to be the youngest mountain chain in the world. It rises against the backdrop of snow capped Mount Kilimanjaro. The number of elephants in this park is legendary, and it has a huge salt lake, where mirages turn gazelles, giraffes, wildebeest and zebras into weird, mythical beasts.

17. Ukambani Hills

The wonderful hills and agricultural landscapes of Nzaui Mukaa, Kilungu, Iveti, Kalama and Mua Hills; the Nzambani Rock, which is said to be a gender changer; historically significant buildings such as Kalamba AIC church, a landmark of early Christian outreach, the Machakos Colonial Office, the former headquarters of the East African Protectorate, and Masinga Dam, the biggest dam in Kenya.

18. Middle Tana

The least travelled and yet a very special region of Kenya, home to Meru and Kora National Parks and the Reserves of Rahole and Mwingi —a huge block of untouched nature bisected by the crocodile-infested Tana River; spectacular wildlife; huge granite kopjes; the impressive Adamson’s Falls and the remains of Lion Man George Adamson’s camp.

19. North Eastern (Garissa, Wajir, Mandera)

The area includes the Endela Swamps;Wajir Museum; historical site of Wagalla Massacre; Yahut dam; Shaletey wells, monumental buildings, the British bunkers and Orpahey wells; Bangal forest.
Mandera also has the Malka Mari National Park; the Daua River; the Malka Mari fort, hills and valleys inhabited by Gurreh nomadic herders; the Awara plains.

20. Mt Kenya

A World Heritage Site, the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa, has snow caps, rugged summits, spectacular trekking leading through untouched forests, bamboo thickets into ice and sheer rock; one of the most scenic drives in Kenya along the Mt Kenya Ring Road; tea and coffee plantations. The mountain is closely linked to the culture and history of the Kikuyu, Meru, Embu and Tharaka peoples. Other attractions: Trout fishing, river rafting and bungee jumping; Mwea National Reserve; Mwea Tebere irrigation scheme.

21. The Aberdares

The third highest mountain range in Kenya, it is covered by various types of rainforest; bamboo thickets; bog and heathland at higher elevations; fantastic possibilities for hiking and trout fishing; the highest waterfalls in Kenya. The Aberdares have anhistoric significance as an important retreat for the Mau Mau fighters — Dedan Kimathi was caught here; vast coffee plantations. On its western side, around Kipipiri, is the Wanjohi Valley or Happy Valley, famous for its decadent colonial lifestyle from the 1920s to the 1940s; on its eastern flank is Murang’a, with the famous fig tree where the Kikuyu people are said to have been founded; Nyeri, a beautiful town with many exceptional colonial buildings, a Dedan Kimathi monument and the grave of the founder of the Boy Scouts movement, Sir Robert Baden-Powell.

22. Laikipia

A unique set of private conservancies that played a decisive role in the effort to save the rhinos in the heyday of poaching in the 1980s. It has highest rhino numbers in Kenya; the area pioneered combined ranching and conservation aimed at creating alternative income sources for the Maasai and Samburu group ranches through tourism and conservation. It is only area of Kenya where game numbers are stable or even rising; activities include horse riding, camel and flying safaris; exquisite accommodation that has housed British royalty; spectacular views of Mt. Kenya; and the annual Laikipia Unity Cup (soccer).

23. Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves

Three exceptional National Reserves alongside the Ewaso Ngiro River and various conservancies on group ranches mark one of the regions of Kenya offering the most game densities; impressive elephant herds; northern dryland fauna; beautiful scenery with riverine forests and doum palm thickets, impressive granite kopjes and savannah; Chandler’s Falls and Magado Volcano that is used as a salt mine by local herdsmen; the world famous Umoja Village that gives insight into the culture of the local Samburu people and offers single women shelter and acceptance. The Shaba National Reserve holds the grave of Joy Adamson of Born Free fame; there are camel safaris and river rafting.

24. Samburu West, Maralal

25. Mathews, Ndoto and Ngiro Mountains

A densely forested ridge of granite that reaches north from Mt. Kenya; deep cut mountain valleys and sand rivers, the terrain of red dressed Samburu herdsmen; the Mathews, Ndoto and Ngiro offer breathtaking trekking tours and camel safaris; Mt. Ngiro is the holy mountain of the Samburu people and is still an important centre of their traditional culture.

26. Marsabit National Park and northern desert

Marsabit Mountain, a green jewel covered with thick forest, has a unique collection of crater lakes; it is the former home of Ahmed, an elephant with exceptionally large tusks, who lived under the personal protection Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta. Marsabit town is home to pastoralist Borana, Rendille and Somali peoples; it has “singing wells,” where herdsmen sing as they dig for water; the Kaisut and Chalbi Deserts offer unique landscapes and drylands, such as salt pans; camels are more common than cattle,. There is the lushness of the oasis of Kalacha; the Garibabor Rock pool; Huri Hills; and sand grouse hunting in Kalacha.

27. Chalbi and Huri Hills

28. Eastern shores of Lake Turkana

Popularly known as the Jade Sea, it is the biggest permanent desert lake on the planet; the southern part of the lake is bracketed by baking hot lava rocks; there are untamed landscapes;, the Teleki Volcano and the spectacular South Island.
The area is home to the Samburu, Daasanach, Rendille, Turkana and El Molo people, who have developed exceptional survival skills in hostile conditions; there is the biggest collection of rock art in East Africa, the desert museum in Loyangalani, the Koobi Fora museum and archaeological site, the most famous and significant excavation site for early human remains; a petrified forest; the Sibiloi National Park, a World Heritage Site; the rock pyramid of Mt. Porr, in whose vicinity gems are found; and the salt lake of Chew Bahir, Lake Stephanie as it was formerly named.

29. City of Nairobi

Kenya’s capital, a modern megapolis that is the economic, cultural and political heart of East Africa; a green city with an outstanding array of bars, music clubs and restaurants, a vibrant cultural scene, shopping malls, art galleries and museums; home to large communities of Kenyan peoples, as well as citizens from neighbouring countries; several historic buildings and sites such as Uhuru Gardens, three remaining rainforests and a vast national park.

30. Southern Rift Valley (Lake Magadi, Olorgesailie, the Nguruman Escarpment, Longonot And Suswa Volcanoes)
Magadi Salt Lake offers spectacular views and hosts an important soda producing factory with its own railway line. The lake is home to unique fish species, a large population of flamingos; Shompole Volcano and conservancy; Ewaso Ngiro River forming a large swamp, merging with Lake Natron.
The Nguruman Escarpment, a sheer 1000-metres high massif, has lots of game; Olorgesailie is one of the most important prehistoric sites in East Africa. The Longonot and Suswa Volcanoes offer spectacular views and hiking opportunities; there are huge lava caves.

31. Central Rift Valley (Hell’s Gate National Park, Lake Naivasha, Mt Eburru, Lake Elmenteita and Lake Nakuru National Park)
Hell’s Gate National Park offers a chance to experience game on foot or bicycle; there wonderful hikes into the gorge, rock climbing on Fischer’s Tower, a geothermal power station, and impressive basalt cliffs.
Lake Naivasha: One of the two sweetwater lakes of the Kenyan Rift Valley, known for birdlife and hippos; camp sites; Crater Lake; Crescent Island; Elsamere, the former home of Joy Adamson; boat riding. The area is the heartland of the Kenyan horticulture industry.
Mt. Eburru offers spectacular views of Lake Naivasha and the Rift Valley; Lake Elmenteita is home to a myriad flamingos, with exclusive camps and balloon safaris. Lake Nakuru is world famous for its millions of flamingos and rhino sanctuary.

32. Tugen Hills and Kerio Valley

The spectacular landscape witnesses a huge elephant migration. There are the Kamnarok National Reserve and its lake and Kerio Valley Gorge, site of the ancient Marakwet and Pokot irrigation system going back some 2,000 years.

33. Suguta Valley

The most barren and hottest point of Kenya.

35. Northern Rift Valley (Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo)

Lake Bogoria National Reserve is home to flamingos, wildlife and incredible bird life; one can descend 600 metres on foot from the rim of the Rift Valley on old honey hunter tracks; there are geysers and hot springs.

Lake Baringo is the other sweetwater lake of the Rift, whose water changes colours with time of the day and weather; there are crocodiles and hippos;, boat rides to swamps and islands in the lake. The region north of the lake is a treasure trove for palaeontologists, with some of the most important findings of early man; there are salty wells and Selali Volcano with its impressive caldera, as well as Logipi salt lake, which fills up seasonally.

36. Mau Forest and Kericho Tea Plantations

The biggest single remaining rainforest in Kenya, being of crucial importance as a water tower; home to the ancient Ogiek, honey hunters and gatherers; home of a huge number of indigenous wild animals, tree and plant species.

On Londiani Mountain is the highest golf course of the former British empire; the area is home to the world famous Molo lambs and an important pyrethrum growing area. The Ol Pusimori Forest flanks vast tea plantations.

37. Cherangani Hills, Eldoret and Nasalot National Reserve

Eldoret is one of Kenya’s major towns, with beautiful historic buildings; the Cherangani Hills, at up to 3,500 metres high, are the fourth highest range in Kenya. There are impressive rainforests, spectacular views of the Rift Valley. The region is home to the Kalenjin people — the source of most of Kenya’s world beating distance runners. The town of Kapenguria is the site of the trial of Jomo Kenyatta; there are the beautiful Marich Pass; the massive Turkwell Dam; Nasalot National Reserve with the conspicuous pyramid of Nasalot Mountain. The area offers boating, rock climbing and hiking possibilities.

38. Southern Turkana
The South Turkana National Reserve is pure wilderness; it includes Karasuk, Lossuk and Loima Hills; special rock art sites and 2,000 year old burial and prayer sites; the Turkwell River, a green lifeline in a harsh country. Along the western shores of Lake Turkana are the palm groves of Eliye Springs; volcanic Central Island with two crater lakes forming a unique crocodile hatching site (the lake is home to the single largest crocodile population in the world); there are sweetwater serpents and giant Nile perch.

39. Northern Turkana

40. Mt Elgon and Kitale

Kenya’s second highest mountain is covered with thick forests; it has the famous elephant caves of Kitkum and Kipsei; the rock art sites of Kakapel; Saiwa Swamp, the smallest national park in Kenya, home to the shy Sitatunga antelope. Kitale has a beautiful museum, nature trail and historic railway station.

41. Yala Falls, Mumias Kingdom, Ndere Island National Prak, Kitmikaye

Yala Falls and Yala Swamp wilderness with rich birdlife and game, which is threatened by rice farming; Mumias Kingdom; Kogelo, village of US President Barack Obama’s family; Ndere Island National Park for bird and game watching and enjoying lake scenery; Kitmikaye holy rock shelter; sugar cane production; traditional wrestling.

43. Kakamega Forest and Nandi Hills/Escarpment

The Kakamega rainforest is home to animals that can be found nowhere else in Kenya, such as grey parrots; activities include hiking, bird and monkey watching. The area is known for gold mining and bull fighting.
The Nandi Escarpment is covered with indigenous forests and tea plantations; there are Broderick’s Falls on the Nzoia River near Webuye; and Chitambe Fort, a monument to the fight against colonial rule.

44. Siaya County

45. Kisumu

The third largest city of Kenya, on the shores of Lake Victoria, is known for the Dunga fishing village and Hippo Point; beautiful religious buildings; a vibrant live music scene; an historic railway station at the end of the railway line.

46. Mfangano, Rusinga, Ruma National Park, Gembe Hills, Great Enclosure

Beautiful island and lake scenery, ideally experience from lake taxis. A visit to the rock art sites on Mfangano island, where there are no cars, make for wonderful hiking; Rusinga island has prehistoric sites and a memorial to the late Tom Mboya; Ruma National Park offers great scenery, the Rothschild’s Giraffe, rhinos and the rare roan antelope.
Gembe Hills offers spectacular views and hiking; there is the great enclosure of Thimlich Ohinga, “brother” of the Great Zimbabwe rock enclosure, possibly the single most spectacular archeological site in Kenya, yet completely unknown. Lake Simbi is a volcanic lake known for birding and home to a large flamingo population; there is the Kanam prehistoric site on the shores of Lake Victoria on Homa Peninsula.

47. Lake Victoria

48. Gusii Land

Tabaka has the most important soap stone mines in the world, feeding the famous handicrafts of the area; there is the beautiful scenery of Gusii Hills, potential for agro- tourism; coffee plantations and the Coffee Research Institute;. Ares to visit are the Oyugis Pelicanry and Tagabi Monkey Sanctuary.

49. Maasai Mara and Trans Mara

This world famous National Reserve is home of the great wildebeest migration and an incredible lushness of animal life; there are many private conservancies, an escarpment with beautiful views, and balloon safaris over the Mara.

50. Loita Hills

Area with the most original Maasai culture; beautiful rivers, forests and mountains; spectacular views of the South Rift Valley.