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Isiolo Resort City to transform the northern tourism circuit

By | October 27th 2011

This sleeping giant has been chosen for its landscapes, rare animals, cultural heritage and its central location in the country. ALI ABDI writes about its proposed makeover

To the west of Isiolo town lie two evergreen hills that are separated by a huge corridor the local pastoralists call Mulango.

A view of the hills surrounding Mulango in Isiolo where the resort city will be located [PHOTO: ALI ABDI/STANDARD]

It’s here at Mulango (which means entrance), located about 20km away from the town centre, that a firm from Japan, Japanese Port Consultant, identified the ideal site for the proposed Isiolo Resort City and developed a conceptual design after a nine-month feasibility study.

The two hills — Katim and Oldonyo Degishu — that are gazetted sites, stand tall as if to provide protection for those staying within the land in between.

Officially called Kipsing Gap, Mulango provides a safe grazing ground for the Samburu, Turkana, Somali and Borana livestock, as the warriors keep vigil on top of the hills to spy on rustlers out to steal their animals.

It is a captivating area bordering the world famous Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to the south, Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves to the north and Samburu Game Park and Ewaso Ng’iro River to the west.

The site measuring 2,600 hectares (6,500 acres) was chosen for its security, accessibility, cultural diversity, natural and wildlife attractions, availability of water, electricity and sewerage system among other amenities.

‘‘It is in this land that the Government in conjuction with major stakeholders as well as the beneficiaries of the project proposes to set up the resort city,’’ said Muthomi Ngaruthi, Assistant Commissioner of Lands.

Chief economist in the Ministry of Tourism, Simon Korir, says the project, to be funded through Public Private Partnership (PPP), will cost $184million (Sh18.9 billion).

"As soon as the land is acquired, the Ministry of Tourism will move to the next stage — get local and foreign investors. Many have already expressed interest,’’ says Korir.

Korir says the ministry that is spearheading the project has requested the County Council of Isiolo, which acts as the custodian of the land on behalf of the locals, to set aside 2,600 hectares (6,500 acres) of land.

Community Land

Isiolo councillors led by chairman Adan Ali and clerk Morris Ogola agreed to the request that will require a formal council resolution.

"Under the old Constitution, land tenure system was under the Trustland Act while the new law defines it as community land. It is mandatory for the central Government to get consent of the locals before getting the land for development of any national project,’’ said Ngaruthi.

"We appeal to the council as the custodian of the land on behalf of the locals to hasten the process of formalising land acquisition for the Government to get into the next stage of the project,’’ said Korir during a meeting for stakeholders of the project.

Peter Ngichili, the councillor of Burat Ward where part of the proposed resort city will be located, has called on Isiolo residents to fully support the project saying it is a national initiative meant to benefit those living in the County of Isiolo.

"The resort city is a national project under Vision 2030 that requires support from all the communities. It will benefit Isiolo County immensely. Let us all support it,’’ he said.

The councillor called on the Vision 2030 secretariat and the Ministry of Tourism to take local stakeholders including councillors on an international tour to familiarise themselves with what a resort city is all about.

In about three months, the council is expected to finalise handing over the land through the divisional land board. The Government will compensate the locals while the council is set to benefit through acquiring the title deed and receiving land rates and rent from investors who will put up facilities in the resort city.

"The council will own the head title and lease the land out to investors who will put up the physical facilities of the resort city. The council will generate revenue through charging rents and rates,’’ said Korir.

"Isiolo town is identified in the Vision 2030 as one of the three resort cities to be developed as part of flagship projects to be implemented within the tourism sector,’’ the official said.

The others are Diani in Kwale and Kilifi. Two others — one in Lamu and Kaloko in Turkana — were added later after the Government came up with Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor.

Under the economic pillar of the Vision 2030, the Government intends to develop a resort city that provides sustainable world-class living standards and working environment; a centre for finance, trade, business services, sports, leisure and entertainment.

Rich culture

It is also expected that the Isiolo Resort City will have a centre for education and information, deliver a unique image and effective branding and position itself as a place to visit, live, work, rest and invest.

The Japanese consultancy firm has come up with more than ten preliminary models of the city, with a clear theme and concept and has undertaken an adequate infrastructure gap analysis.

It has also come up with a plan on how the various parts of the land will be used and advised on the private sector involvement and integration of the local community into the project.

The development and growth of the resort city for between 20 and 30 years has also been factored into the plan.

A framework for development of infrastructure and investment decisions in housing, transport, industry, water supply, energy and hospitality services among others formed part of the study.

Isiolo was picked due to its central position in the country, the rich culture of the pastoralists — Borana, Somali, Samburu and Turkana — and its natural heritage that includes beautiful arid scenery and rare wildlife.

The five rare animals only found in the northern Kenya tourism circuit are reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, gerenuk, gravy zebra and oryx.

Isiolo’s Shaba Game Reserve also rose to world tourism fame after CBS TV blockbuster series Survivor Africa and the films To Walk with Lions, Out of Africa, Sheena the Queen of the Jungle, Born Free and The White Maasai were shot in the area.

The other parks in Isiolo are Buffalo Springs and Bisanadi while those neighbouring the town are Meru National Park, Mount Kenya National Park and Samburu National Reserve.

Korir says the construction of the Lamu Port, railway lines and petroleum pipeline, all passing through Isiolo, will attract tourists to the resort city.

He adds that the on-going construction of an international airport in Isiolo will also be a major boost.

Components of the proposed resort include three to six-star hotels, a local art and craft museum, theatre for international festivals, international conference centres and sport facilities like golf courses, an international camel derby race and cultural events.

Jewel in the Crown

Tour circuit includes national parks that stretch from the Aberdares, Mt Kenya and Meru, archaeological sites, mountaineering and biking trails, and nature walks.

The circuit is figuratively known as the Jewel in the Crown for its rich diversity in fauna and flora and wide ranging species of wildlife that include the ‘big five’ — lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.

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