Turkana County

Discover Turkana County

Spatial Location of Turkana County in Kenya

Brief Overview of Turkana County

Turkana County preserves a long and strong record of biotic evolution, cultural origin and the geology of the Rift Valley, making it one of the most diverse and interesting regions. The downside of it is that Turkana lies in the eye of the sun in Kenya, its altitude rarely rising over 1000 ms and the day temperature hardly falling under 35o C year-round. The present-day isolation of Turkana is also in part due to the current water imbalance. Other than for a few strips of not more than a few kilometres in width along the shores of Lake Turkana and along the few streams that flow here, usually seasonally, Turkana is arid, with hundreds upon thousands of miles of parched shrubland. All the same, its wonders and hidden riches have always beckoned the intrepid. Exploration and description of the geological features of Turkana has been under way for over a century. The earliest European explorers to visit the region, Teleki and von Hohnel, returned with riveting observations on the geology and superb landscapes they traversed.

Beginning in the mid-1960’s, paleo-anthropological investigations in the lower Omo Valley, at the Koobi Fora Basin, on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, and elsewhere around Turkana, further spurred interest among explorers. Its claim to fame as a “Cradle of Mankind” in Africa is that it is the base for one of the most important archaeological findings of the modern era that is simply known as the Turkana Boy or “Nariokotome Boy”. In 1984, the world-famous Turkana Boy was found at Nariokotome. A 1.5-million-year-old almost complete Homo-erectus skeleton. Still and all, it may come as a big surprise to think of tourism becoming important in Turkana. As a destination, it gets a putrid press and one that tends to conjure up images of a desert littered with dry bones, sand storms and the worst kind of human suffering.  Conversely, Turkana County is a wildly beautiful area with memorable and rare horizons, and far enchanting than any other County of Kenya. Its remoteness has preserved it as a natural wilderness.

Perhaps, it is the discovery of oil and vast underground water aquifers that has brought to the forefront the plight of Turkana County, previously one of the most investment-devoid and marginalized regions in Kenya.  Benevolently, the discovery of these vital resources has ignited the interest of both the local and foreign players.  The excitement to travel to Turkana County is mounting. Of course, all good people hope that the Turkana People will have the first priority in benefiting from these resources, and that this will finally open up Turkana. Lyrically waxed about is that Turkana is not an an easy destination to reach. Most of its roads are just coming of age. The LAPSSET project, which is set to lay bitumen surface road crossing the entire county, will be a game-changer for Turkana County.  Although not a common travel corridor in Kenya, and for all the difficulty of getting there, Turkana County is a rewarding encounter with all the makings of a spectacular adventure into unfamiliar landscapes and cultures.

View of a traditional homestead in Turkana County.  Photo Courtesy of Pulitzer Centre
Traditional homestead in Turkana. Image Courtesy of Pulitzer Centre

Salient Features of Turkana County

  • County Number 23
  • Area – 77000 km2
  • Altitude – 400 to 1138 m
  • Major Towns – Lodwar, Lokichar, Lokichoggio
  • Borders – West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Samburu, Marsabit
Turkana County Map

Brief History of Turkana County

Like all of the other districts within the Northern Frontier, Turkana County had been declared a “closed district” by the British Empire. This meant that no one except for government officials and the resident traders could enter it without written permission of the District Commissioner.  Because of the harsh climate and environment bleakness, once described by Jomo Kenyatta as ‘hell on earth’, the population and importance of Turkana District grew slowly.  As it happens, British clerks working here were not expected to do more than a year of service.

Boy herding livestock in Turkana.  Photo Courtesy of HuffPost
Boy herding livestock in Turkana. Image Courtesy of HuffPost