Busia County

Discover Busia County

View of the conspicuous Kakapel Rock at Amagoro.  Photo Courtesy
View of the conspicuous Kakapel Rock at Amagoro. Image Courtesy

Brief Overview of Busia County

If you leave Mombasa travelling northwesterly via the A104 Mombasa-Uganda Road you will find yourself on a good road running through the entire range of Kenya’s ecological gamut. Then, 920 kms later, going through Nairobi, Eldoret and Bungoma, you reach Malaba Town, and one of the busiest border crossing in Kenya unfolds before you. For kilometre upon kilometre the roadside is lined with hundreds of dumper cargo trucks. On average, 600 trucks cross at Malaba every month en-route Tororo and Kampala in Uganda. In the distance are the cones and hills of Uganda and Tororo Town sits just 17 kms from Malaba Town.

25 kms south of Malaba Town on a murram road through Amukura and Alupe, or via the Mumia-Busia Road through Nambale, sits Busia Town; the larger and busier of the two border crossings in Busia County. It too is a round-the-clock hive of activity and on average 700 transit cargo truck cross this border point, destined for Tororo, Kampala and beyond. It is a much longer drive to Tororo Town from Busia of about 51 kms. Communication in Busia is mainly by road, although the non-functioning railway to Tororo in Uganda passes through the northern part of Busia County through Malaba. It is hoped that new Nairobi-Malaba SGR – connecting to other standard-gauge-rails in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and DRC – will ease communication along the A104 and the two border crossings within Busia. It also an unused airstrip at Busia Town.

The unbroken 80 kms western border of Busia County, southwards from Lake Victoria (Port Bunyala) to Kolanya, and Malikisi in the extreme north, marches on with Uganda. Its eastern boundary marches with Bungoma, Kakamega and Siaya Counties. The principal sources for water are Nzoia in the extreme south, Sio and Walatsi in the centre, and Malakisi in the extreme north. These goodly perennial rivers are reinforced by some seasonal streams. Generally, the terrain is undulating to flat – inclining only gently from 1500 ms in Teso North to 1,130 ms asl at the shores of Lake Victoria. The north area features extensive granitic outcrops, which are essentially part of the peneplain, interspersed by sizeable granitic hills including those seen at Amukura and Chelelemuk. The two main ethnic communities in Busia are the Teso (in the northern area) and the Luhya.

Salient Features of Busia County

  • County Number 40
  • Area – 1694 km2
  • Altitude – 1200 ms
  • Major Towns – Busia, Malaba, Nambale
  • Borders – Bungoma, Kakamega, Siaya

Brief History of Busia County

Busia District was formed in 1963.  Busia Town, the present headquarters, was formerly a Colonial Government border outpost, which remains the busiest of Kenya’s 35 gazetted entries that facilitate trade. Busia border point, which is the concept one-­stop border post border with Uganda, is a critical entry and exit point.  Seven of other salient border post between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania includes the Malaba, Isbania, Taveta, Lunga Lunga, Loitoktok and Namanga borders points. Still and all, the people of Busia County in Kenya and Busia District in Uganda have on all occasions sought relations and the Samia, Iteso, Banyala, Acholi/Japadhola (a mirror community of the Kenyan Luos) and the Abagissu, who mirror the Kenyan Bukusu, have always trades and intermarried.

View of Lake Victoria near Budalang'i.  Photo Courtesy of NMG
View of Lake Victoria near Budalang’i. Image Courtesy of NMG

Places of Interest in Busia County

1. Kakapel Rock Art Monument

Proclaimed a National Monument in 2004, the other-worldly Kakapel Rock Art sheltered at the base of a gigantic granite outcrop is both a dramatic landscape and a rare historic destination deserving a visit by any tripper to Busia County. Kakapel, unlike the other large rock art sites in Kenya, is composed of art from three discernible time-scales. “The first painting is done in red, and drawn with fingers; it includes geometric designs and a red animal, probably an elephant. These paintings may date from 2,000 to 4,000 years old. The second painting depicts domestic cattle and a small elephant. The date of these cattle paintings is unknown, but they could be more than 3,000 years old. The third painting is entirely of finger-drawn images of geometric designs and animals and its origin is the most difficult to determine” – Trust for African Rock Art. This chain of rock art is the most intricate in Kenya. The three adjacent shelters are reached via a secure walk-ledge and curators are on-site to guide you through the tour. Kakapel sits at the slopes of the pretty Chelelemuk Hills where very little of the range has been exploited, and there is an abundance of high rocks and hillocks to explore on foot. It’s also a dreamy and brill location for camping and birding.

Spatial Location of Kakapel Rock Art Monument in Busia County
Spatial Location of Kakapel Rock Art Monument in Busia County

2. Kakapel Community Cultural Centre

The routine ending-point from Kakapel Rock Art site is at Kakapel Community Cultural Centre found within spitting distance. The first delight that guests are treated to is a showcase of numerous artefacts and traditional paraphernalia of Iteso Culture displayed at the centre. It was established with the aim of cultural passage where visitors to Kakapel can gain insights into the rich Iteso customs, and this is a great place to turn over in one’s mind the wisdom behind the rock art and ponder on its significance. In addition, there are dances, oral tales and traditional cuisine. This is also home to the annual Iteso Cultural Festival, held in late-December. For the nature-lover, Kakapel offers interesting walking and scrambling takes. There are dozens of huge rocks, some caves, and hills to walk about. Kakapel is found along A104 Bungoma-Malaba Road at Amagoro 20 kms from Bungoma. The turnoff to Kakapel is on the right, then its 8 kms from here.

Artefacts and traditional items at Kakapel Community Centre

3. Malaba Sanctuary

6 kms west of Amagoro, at the furthermost west of Kenya, the bustling town of Malaba is reached. It is unlikely that the people of Malaba itself know that the Malaba Game Sanctuary exists.  Like the Ngai-Ndeithya National Reserve near Mtito-Andei, which is cultivated from end-to-end, Malaba Sanctuary seems to be more of a paper exercise.  There is nothing to discern it from its surrounding.

4. Kavirondo Rocks

Either route from Malaba to Busia – Amukura-Alupe-Busia Route or the longer Mumias-Nambale-Busia Route – treats trippers to fine views of the elephantine granitic rocks that bestrewn the northern area of Busia County. These rocks are a minor attraction, yet, the keen motorist will find a thrilling experience in just driving past them. The Kavirondo Rocks are well developed around Butula and Nambale sometimes covering patches of 5 km2 marked by very steep cleavages. There are fantastic hills and tors seen at Amukura and Chelelemuk (also known as Kocholia Hills). The road switchbacks through fields of rocks, hillocks, farms interspersed with huge rocks and woodlands, with hardly a stretch of more than a few kilometres without a sighting, offers a plethora of varied sites. Kavirondo Rocks include granites, black felsites, dolerites, mudstones, conglomerates and sandstones. These rocks, resembling those seen along Kisumu-Kakamega Road, originated from the same Nyanzanian Belt also dubbed as the Kavirondian Belt.

5. Sio Siteki Swamp

Midway between Busia and Bumala, near Matayos, is an oddity among Busia’s places of interest. Call it a miraculous anomaly! And there is a startled feeling of enchantment about the Sio Siteki Swamp which mysteriously turned into a lake less than five years ago, yet, it harbors a prolific variety of birdlife and a superb floral diversity. By harnessing attributes of a mature tropical resource – floral and faunal – it has inspired the touring mojo of many residents of Busia who frequent Sio Siteki Swamp to bear witness to the marvel. A significant portion of its landscape consists of the papyrus-fringed headwater which opens up to a picturesque 1 km2 lake. While plenty of tropical lakes have been formed by the actions of rivers or by earth movement and tectonic activity, experts are yet to give a conclusive explanation for the Sio Siteki Lake. It is thought that the lake was formed from the dynamics of surface and underground seepage. Sio Siteki Swamp and Lake is located in Munongo Village within the Matayos Sub-county.

We woke up last week in the morning only to see a huge water body staring at us. We were shocked. This recent phenomenon of the new lake has caused a lot of attraction from locals and neighboring Uganda residents who come to see the latter-day wonder in Busia County. – Talk Africa

6. Lake Victoria

The turnoff to Funyula, Sio Port and Port Bunyala is reached at Bumala, on the Road from Busia to Kisumu, 23 kms from Busia. If you follow this road toward Funyula you will find yourself crossing a rural landscape with the magnificent backdrop of the Funyula and Samia Hills. This area is patently within the Lake Victoria Basin Catchment and in particular offers a chance to sight one of the unique attractions of East Africa. 24 kms from Bumala, near Sio Port, the open country gives way to Lake Victoria, and the setting here offers the best overall impressions of it in Western Kenya. The drive from Sio Port in Funyula to Port Bunyala (or Port Victoria) in Budalangi has plenty of viewpoints to glimpse this stretch of Lake Victoria and its chains of island and beaches including Marenga in Budalang’i, Bumbe and Bussijo in Funyula. The scenery here also includes the pretty Samia Hills. There are two main ports in Busia County – the Sio Port and Port Victoria in Budalangi – which serve substantially as fish landing ports. The beaches and small islands in Busia County remain largely underdeveloped.

7. Samia Hills

The southern part of Busia is covered by a range of hills comprising the Samia and Funyula Hills which run from the north-east to the south-west terminating at Port Victoria. These form a very conspicuous topographic scape. Samia Hills – seen between Sio Port and Port Victoria – are the most prominent of Busia’s volcanic igneous rocks, which underlay most of the county.  These hummocky hills and their associated colluvial basin stand out prominently to the east and southwest areas of Funyula and Bunyala and are marked by deep valleys made by the major rivers – Nzoia, Yala, and Sio – on their dendritic drainage to Lake Victoria. For tourism, the Samia Hills are designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and the Muungano Development Environmental Conservation Forum have put in place some initiatives to conserve and protect this landscape by re-planting indigenous trees. The Samia Resort at Funyula, with prepossessing views of these hills and the bucolic boonies, offers satisfactory accommodation.

Spatial Location of Funyula within Busia County
Spatial Location of Funyula within Busia County

8. River Nzoia

On the account that River Nzoia has the largest basin in Kenya’s Lake Victoria system, with an approximate area of 12,709 km2 and a length of 334 kms to its outflow into the Lake Victoria, warrants its mention as one the salient natural wonders of Busia County. Rising in the forested highlands of Mount Elgon with tributaries from Cherangani Hills, Nandi Hills and Kakamega Forest, the Nzoia traverses five counties – Trans-Nzoia, Kakamega, Kisumu, Siaya and Busia – before discharging into Lake Victoria a short-distance north of Yala Swamp in Bunyala, Budalangi. River Nzoia is a mixed blessing for the communities found along its littorals. On the one hand, its waters provide a vital life line as a source of water for subsistence and irrigation. On the other hand, in the lowland zone especially in Budalang’i, it continues to experience annual flood disasters due to failure of structural flood mitigation systems like earth dykes to control its high flows. Then there’s “the devastating effects of pollution, from industrial waste, with the smell of the water itself striking you from a distance.” – Nation Media.

9. Yala Swamp

Yala Swamp, which is situated in the south-western corner of Busia County, is one of Kenya’s most important wetlands.  Covering about 200 km2, it is a major natural resource for wetland eco-tourism. Its formation is a result of backflow of water from Lake Victoria as well as flooding of the Rivers Nzoia and Yala. The swamp is mainly fed by River Yala which flows right through the swamp with a small contribution from River Nzoia in the north-eastern section of the swamp. Contiguous with Siaya County, this ecosystem also encompasses three lakes – Sare, Namboyo and Kanyaboli – in Siaya. It is an Important Bird Area, according to the Bird Life International and is also an indigenous habitat for the rare semi aquatic Sitatunga. Until the mid 1960’s, Yala Swamp covered a total of 17500 ha as natural swamp. However, between 1965 and 1970, 23 km2 were reclaimed as farmland by Ministry of Agriculture and Lake Basin Development.

View of Breeze Hotel in Busia Town.  Photo Courtesy of TripAdvisor
View of Breeze Hotel in Busia Town. Image Courtesy of TripAdvisor

Geography of Busia County

The geography and the natural conditions of Busia County are largely reflective of the relief features of the surroundings Lake Victoria Catchment. Most parts of Busia County falls within the Lake Victoria Basin. The altitude is undulating and rises from about 1,130 ms above sea level at the shores of Lake Victoria to a maximum of about 1,500 ms in the Kocholia and North Teso Hills. The central part of Busia County, specially Butula and Nambale Sub-counties, are occupied by a peneplain marked by low flat divides of approximately uniform height that are often capped by a lateritic and a shallowly incised swampy drainage system.

Land Use in Busia County

The central and southern parts of the County are suitable for maize, cotton and horticultural crops. Apart from the lower regions of Funyula and Bunyala to the south which require irrigation, large areas of Budalang’i Sub-county towards the lower reaches of Rivers Nzoia and Yala are properly drainage and have high potential for agriculture. The average land holding size in Busia County is 2-Ha.

Highlights of Busia County

The captivating Kakapel Rock Art Monument in Teso North Sub-county and rocky hills of Kisoko are the main highlights in Busia County.  Lake Victoria Viewpoints, the beautiful stretch of Lake Victoria and neighbouring islands, beaches such as Marenga in Budalang’i sub-county, Bumbe and Busijo seen in Funyula Sub-county, rich cultural heritage, traditional dances, annual cultural gatherings, herbal medicine, artefacts and musical instruments all add value to Bunyala and Samia cultural centers as great tourist attractions to Busia County.

Population in Busia County

The 2012 population of Busia County was estimated to be 816,452 with females numbering 425,622 (53.13%) and the males 390,830 (47.87%) respectively. By the year 2017, the populace was estimated to have grown to a total of 953,337.  The most populous towns in Busia County are Busia and Malaba which meet the minimum population threshold of 10,000 people for an urban centre as per the Urban Areas and Cities Act 2011. Nambale, Bumala, and Port Victoria have populations of below 10,000 people. Busia County’s poverty level is at 64.22 %.

Brisge along Bumala-Port Sio Road.  Photo Courtesy
Bridge along Bumala-Port Sio Road. Image Courtesy

Airports in Busia County

Busia County has one airstrip located at Busia Town, currently not in use.

Roads in Busia County

Busia County has a total of 583.2 kms of roads managed by different authorities and agencies. Of these, 58.6 kms are of bitumen, 377.5 kms are gravel surface and earth surface roads cover 147.0 kms. The main roads are Kisumu-Busia and Bungoma-Malaba that are key for communication and for economic enterprise.

Climate in Busia County

The temperatures in Busia County is more or less homogeneous. The annual mean maximum temperatures range between 26°C and 30°C while the mean minimum temperature range between 14°C and 22 °C. Long rain peak between late March to late May, with short rains occurring between August and October.

Busia County Distance Chart
Busia County Distance Chart

View of the Sio Siteki Swamp.  Photo Courtesy of Talk Africa
View of the Sio Siteki Swamp. Image Courtesy of Talk Africa

National Monuments in Busia County

There are no designated national monuments in Busia County.

Busia County Map

Busia County Map