Lack of toilets, eatery dents appeal of Thimlich Ohinga

John Odhiambo tours Thimlich Ohinga site last year. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Six months after achieving World Heritage status, Thimlich Ohinga, the Unesco-recognised cultural heritage site, remains in slumber.

With no proper access roads, electricity or water, the site which lies 46km northwest of Migori town is in dire need of a financial boost to improve its amenities.

A visit to the site revealed improved tourism numbers, but there is little effort to ensure it meets the basic standards of a habitable place.

With only a single pit latrine, the management admitted that many international guests expressed reservations during their visits.

The nearest water point is Gogo Falls, which lies three kilometres away, while the nearest shopping centre is Rapogi, about 26km away.

Carry meals

With no refreshments available at the site or nearby, guests have to carry their own meals or travel to Rapogi to grab something to eat.

The site, managed by the National Museums of Kenya, last year became the seventh World Heritage site in the country.

This after the Government finally convinced Unesco that the unique stone-walled traditional enclosures, which represented African community homesteads, deserved the status.

Site curator Kelvin Saitoti said the number of visitors had increased to at least 20 guests per month. Previously, fewer than five people visited every three months.

“It is true that we have a lot to do in terms of providing basic services. We have been engaging stakeholders in a bid to raise funds to put up some of the basic requirements,” said Mr Saitoti.

The site’s natural indigenous forest is still under threat following an invasion by encroachers who cut the tree branches to be used for drying coffee.

The site’s 10 employees, who work in shifts, are stretched thin as they do the administrative work, act as tour guides and provide security in the expansive area.

Saitoti said they had been granted a 10-year window by Unesco to ensure that the missing infrastructure was put in place in accordance with the required standards.

A drive into the 52-acre archeological site reveals a picture of a sleeping giant whose potential may not be realised soon.

Rich history

Five enclosures - Kochieng, Kakuku, Koketch, Koluoch and Kogong’ - are surrounded by massive stone walls that are in turn swallowed up by a thick, indigenous forest which provides a perfect natural habitat.

The stone walls, which are 4.2 metres high with a diameter of between 1.5-2 metres, and watch towers commonly referred to as batteries, are believed to have been erected 500 years ago.

Inside the enclosures is a rich history of the lives and times of our ancestors, with traces of houses, cow sheds and the games they played.

Each enclosure has a different size, number of gates and different sizes of extensions, which show the sizes of families in each home.

And even with rising interest from stakeholders, Saitoti said inadequate funding remained the biggest challenge in developing the site as well as exploiting other leisure activities.

“This place has the potential to host a campsite, film production, weddings and other leisure parties. But with lack of power, water and sanitation we are not able to fully exploit it,” he said.