Two classes emerging
Traffic to and from the area has increased very considerably. Every day at 5am, the first public commuter shuttle van leaves Nairobi for Isiolo and the same happens from Isiolo to Nairobi.
The 10-passenger ‘superior comfort’ vans, modelled on the famous Safari tourist vans, gather at their terminus on the Accra and River Road junction in Nairobi’s downtown before beginning the five-hour trip over roughly 300 kms to Isiolo.
All this new activity and the arrival of an increasing number of strangers to the town have left locals bemused. A sharp class division between the rich and the ordinary is beginning to become obvious.
When I asked Galkano Boru, a livestock trader, if I could get a hotel for between $50 and $100, he widened his eyes. “Na pesa kama hiyo pengine uende ukalale kwa matajiri huko Lewa,” he replied in Kiswahili. (‘With such an amount, you can go and spend the night at rich people’s place at Lewa.’) He then informed me that for Kshs800 ($8), I could enjoy hospitality in a very good hotel.
All this new activity and the arrival of an increasing number of strangers to the town has left locals bemused. A sharp class division between the rich and the ordinary is beginning to become obvious
But of course the definition of ‘a very good hotel’ is relative. There are many expensive places but so far, at least, one can get by without having to fork out a fortune.
Boru explained that Isiolo was a trading and meeting point for Borana, Samburu, Somali and Turkana herders who come to buy and sell livestock and the attractive merchandise on sale in the various stores.
Boru is looking forward to the commissioning of a new $9.5m abattoir. This, he said, will enable him and his fellow herders to export beef and leather directly to the Middle East.
A major aspect of Isiolo’s attraction as a tourist resort is the proximity of several exceptional national parks – Shaba, Bisanadi and Buffalo Springs
National Reserves and Lewa Downs Conservancy are within the country. The celebrated Lewa Conservancy, an undulating ranch covering 62,000 acres, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After a century of being sidelined as a backwater, hardship-posting destination, it seems that Isiolo will finally shake off the dust and the cobwebs and emerge as Kenya’s new glittering city.