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Why Nakuru is no pushover

By Peter Theuri and Carolyne Chebet | December 17th 2020


An aerial view of Nakuru town, one of the fastest-growing urban areas in Kenya.[Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Nakuru is quiet and warm, like an incubator, and has birthed and groomed prominent businesses over the years.

Nakumatt, once East Africa’s most potent retailer, was born in the Rift Valley town as Nakuru Mattresses.

Naivas, whose expansion has been meteoric with 69 branches now and a 70th mooted before the end of the year, also breathed its first in the town.

The famous Eveready East Africa, a former major manufacturer of dry cell batteries, was also based there.

“Nakuru gives life - there are many industries and companies that start here and end up being big in the country,” says Joel Githinji, who lives in the town and runs a wholesale and retail oils and lubricants shop.

When Rift Valley was a province, sprawling from the Kenya-Sudan border to the North and kissing Tanzania in the south, it had Nakuru as its headquarters.

Warm climate

The town sits squat on the base of Rift Valley, lulled into a deceptive silence but buzzing with activity beneath the veneer of calm.

The county is the third most populous after Nairobi and Kiambu with an area of 7,496.5 square kilometres.

With relatively warm climate and enviable security, Nakuru is an attraction for local settlers.

But it also hosts thousands of tourists due to an array of attractions. It is home to Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementaita and Lake Naivasha.

Hippos in Lake Naivasha. [Courtesy]

Lake Nakuru is famous for hundreds of thousands of flamingoes that strut around its shores, giving the lake’s surface a beautiful dash of pink.

An area of around 188 kilometres around the lake is fenced off as a sanctuary to help protect the endangered Rothschild giraffe and black rhinos.

Nakuru is also home to the famed Menengai Crater, an extinct volcano in the north of the town, rising to a height of 2,250m from which Lake Bogoria and Lake Nakuru can be seen.

An ethnic and cultural diversity also boosts Nakuru’s allure.

The town is home to Highland Nilotes as well as the Bantu, intermingling and intermarrying to form a cultural mix.

An aerial view of Nakuru town. The town is a major transit point for tourists to the Rift Valley. [File, Courtesy]

Perhaps it is the strategic location along the Northern Corridor linking East and Central African countries, its famous pre-historic sites or watching the sun set amid the pops of pink in Lake Nakuru, that made European settlers fall in love with and settle in the town.

Nakuru was founded in 1904 as a railway outpost following the completion of the Kenya-Uganda railway.

From the initial outpost status, the town evolved into a vibrant commercial and administrative centre for the settlers.

The name Nakuru is from the Maasai word “Nakuro” which means a place of the whirlwind or, simply, a dusty place.

In the county, stories of love remain documented at Egerton Castle, those on origin of mankind are told at Hyrax Hills and Kariandusi Museums while those on the Rift Valley’s formation are told at Menengai Crater.

Intriguing tales of the Rift Valley are also never complete without a mention of Nakuru’s famous alkaline, fresh and crater lakes.

In 2016, the United Nations, in a report rated Nakuru as the fastest growing town in Africa and the fourth in the world. The town sits at the confluence of major roads leading to Nairobi, Central and Western Kenya regions.

However, Nakuru sits on an area classified as geologically unstable due to shifting fault lines. Highrise buildings are therefore considered unsafe.

Nakuru County Tourism Association Chairman David Mwangi said the county is both an agricultural and tourism hub and being centrally located makes it an excellent destination for investors.

“Nakuru is centrally located, with good road networks linking to top tourist destinations including Maasai Mara, Lake Bogoria and Baringo, besides also hosting the Lake Nakuru National Park,” he told Home & Away.

“With all these, the county has experienced an upsurge especially from the influx of investors targeting various fields, majorly in agriculture and tourism.”

The tourism sector, he says, has particularly seen the hotel industry grow with high-end facilities coming up.

Religious and medical tourism are also part of what is contributing to the growth of Nakuru town.

“Just as the current growth in religious tourism has seen visitors flocking Heaven’s Gate Prayer centre in Gilgil overlooking Lake Elementaita, medical tourism is also part of what is making Nakuru town grow,” Mr Mwangi said.

Nakuru County Chief Executive for Tourism and Trade Raymond Komen says the town has gradually transformed into a hub of research, tourism and education.

“Just within Nakuru town, a visitor can hike to Menengai Crater and forest, visit Lake Nakuru National park where they can enjoy boat rides within the park and even visit Lord Egerton Castle,” he said.


International airport

And now Nakuru will be home to an airport, bringing in even more people.

On Tuesday, the county broke ground for construction of the Nakuru International Airport in Lanet, an expansion of the current military airstrip at Lanet barracks.

Governor Lee Kinyanjui said the airport will boost tourism and investment. 

“The expansion of Lanet airstrip will spur the economy of Nakuru. This will also see tourism and agriculture as well as real estate grow with more investors coming in,” he said.

The growth of Nakuru has also spilled over to neighbouring Ngata town, which has since been ranked among best performing.

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