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Lodwar in northern Kenya, offers both the rough and the smooth

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By James Wanzala | October 11th 2015
A reception at Ceamo Prestige Lodge in Lodwar.PHOTOS:JAMES WANZALA/STANDARD

TURKANA COUNTY: The 242-kilometre journey from Lodwar to Kitale is torturous, and is not for the faint of heart, especially when you are riding on the old buses that ply the rough road.

I went to Lodwar for the first time in 2013, and together with other journalists, we were flown by Tullow Oil Company, which is drilling oil in Lokichar.

A few weeks back, I went back by bus to deliver books to a remote school called Kootoro, about 98 kilometres from Lokichar.

Lodwar, the headquarters of Turkana County, is the largest town in northwestern Kenya. It is located to the west of Lake Turkana. The Loima Hills lie to its west.

The town’s history began around 1933 when a trader named Shah Mohamed arrived on the banks of the Turkwell River. The roads were inaccessible so he brought donkeys. He eventually built a permanent trading centre and a petrol station in Lodwar.

During the 1960s, Catholic missionaries started building schools in and around the town. During the colonial period, Lodwar functioned as a transit point for British officials moving Kenyan political prisoners to the north.

Lodwar has since expanded and gained commercial and economic prominence in the recent years, thanks to the many non-state bodies running programmes in the county.

The county is divided into six constituencies including Turkana North, South, East, West, Loima and Central, where Lodwar town is.

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River Turkwel passes near the town. It has a narrow bridge on which two vehicles cannot pass at the same time.

The river separates the town with the prime Kanamkemer Ward, where the well-off reside.

The river is so useful to the town since it is the source of the town’s water supply. The town is largely inhabited by locals who are Turkanas. Other ethnicities, who control the biggest chunk of wholesale businesses, also reside therein.

Most of the food eaten in town comes from Kitale in Trans Nzoia and West Pokot counties, which are agriculturally viable unlike Turkana, which is a semi-arid.

The locals consider Catholic missionaries as their first ancestral fathers because they sponsor most of the schools in the county. The locals say three quarters of the residents were educated by the missionaries.

Domestic animals roaming the streets is a common sight,  because the residents are majorly pastoralists.

Woe unto you if you accidentally hit  any wandering goats or sheep because you will pay with a cow or a bull.

As they say, every market has a madman, and there is a stark naked man who strolls in the market without a care. Street children and beggars are also common.

The temperatures are always high. The warmest month is March and the coolest one is July.

April is the wettest month while September is the driest month.

Thanks to solar-powered street lights and Kenya Police Reserve officers patrol, it is so safe to walk at night.

Since the place is hot, selling of bottled water is the business of choice.

However, water and soda bottles which are less than one litre are not available in Lodwar!

The poor state of the Kitale — Lodwar road has made life in Lodwar town expensive  as traders who procure their goods from Kitale pass the burden to the residents by charging them more than the recommended retail prices.

Residents say Lodwar is one of the most expensive towns. For instance, daily newspapers are flown in and cost Sh100 per copy. Weekends papers are not available.

While you will never get a weekend newspaper, one thing that is ever available in Lodwar is goat meat.

As a matter of fact, it is said that you cannot go to Lodwar and fail to eat roast goat meat.

In fact, no food is served without goat meat. For instance, if you order ugali with vegetables, you will be served ugali, and a mixture of vegetables and goat meat.

The town’s entertainment joints that are known for best meals, accommodation or drinks are Chomazone Resort, and Youngstars, which is good for those who love clubbing. There is also Kilimanjaro Guest House.

As a tourism destination, Turkana County is blessed with more than 50 touristic sites, according to Lynus Ebenyo, the Trade, Tourism and Industrialisation County Executive. Lake Turkana has a sand beach stretching 245 kilometres and the re is Central Island National Park with three crater lakes. One of the lakes has has flamingoes and the others have fish and crocodiles.

It is said that the water of Eliye Springs, which is situated about 65 kilometres from Lodwar, has medicinal values and is good for the skin. Bird species, stone-people cultural site and Turkana Basin Institute that has fossils are some of the places worth visiting.

I visited Eliye Springs, and take it from me: this is a place you have to visit when you are in Lodwar.

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