West of Nakuru, the A104 is a busy, often dangerous highway along which lorries, buses and matatus thunder at top speed over a surface which varies, unpredictably, from perfect to perfectly awful and which has been the subject of a massive resurfacing and road-building operation in recent years. It’s hair-raising if you’re driving yourself or with a driver, and even more wearing on the nerves if you’re travelling by public transport.
Heading into Western Kenya, the C56 offers a scenic and much quieter alternative to the main highway, climbing gradually up to the towns of Njoro, Elburgon and Molo, in ascending order of altitude and size. This is a gentle land of small towns, colonial manors and conifers, and although most travellers see nothing more of it than the road to Kericho, the area offers some of the most charming accommodation in the region, and is well worth a stopover.Read More
The turn-off to Njoro and the Mau escarpment lies 5km west of Nakuru, and is usually marked by a police roadblock. From here, it’s 13km to NJORO, the hometown of Egerton University (main campus 5km out of town on the road to Narok), which has several other campuses scattered through the highlands. The jacaranda-fringed main road runs straight past the “centre” of town – a great acreage of mud (or, at best, dust), backed by a humble row of dukas and hotelis. Beyond the Narok junction, there’s another and more soulful Njoro of wooden-colonnaded, tin-roofed, one-storey dukas. Here you’ll also find a KCB bank and the Njoro Farmer’s Petrol Station, a Shell garage. On the other side of town, past timber yards, is flat cereal country, with herds of dairy cattle and racehorses between the lines of gum trees and copses of acacia.
Elburgon and Molo
Elburgon and Molo
ELBURGON is a good deal bigger than Njoro, and higher up. You’re into seriously muddy, conifer country up here, and the buildings, characteristically chalet-style, are built of dark, weathered planks. It’s timber money that gives Elburgon a degree of commercial prosperity and can be the only reason for the massive investment in the Hotel Eel.
West of Elburgon, the road winds and dips through patches of Mau forest for several kilometres, with glimpses of railway viaducts across the valleys, until it emerges, still higher up, among the cereals and pyrethrum fields at MOLO. Molo straggles for several kilometres down into a broad valley across the rail tracks and up the other side on to Mau Summit Road, where you’ll find a post office, banks and several petrol stations.
The Kalenjin peoples
The Kalenjin peoples
The Kalenjin form the majority of the population in the central part of the Rift Valley. Their name, actually a recent adoption by a number of peoples speaking dialects of Nandi, means “I tell you”. The principal Kalenjin are the Nandi, Terik, Tugen, Elgeyo, Elkony, Sabaot, Marakwet and Kipsigis, and, more contentiously, the Pokot. They were some of the earliest inhabitants of Kenya and probably absorbed the early bushmen or pygmy peoples who had already been here for 200–300,000 years.
Primarily farmers, the Kalenjin have often adapted their economies to local circumstances. The first Kalenjin were probably herdsmen. The pastoral Pokot group still spurn all kinds of cultivation and despise peoples who rely on anything but livestock, calling the Marakwet, living against the western Rift escarpment, Cheblong (“The Poor”), for their lack of cattle. The Okiek provide another interesting clue to the past. Hunter-gatherers, they live in scattered groups in the forests of the high slopes flanking the Rift, but unlike most hunter-gatherers, they do very little gathering. Meat and honey are the traditional staples. They consider wild fruits and vegetables barely palatable, though cornmeal and gardening have been introduced, and they now keep some domestic animals too. They may be the descendants of Kalenjin forebears who lost (or ate) their herds. There are other groups in Kenya who live mostly by hunting – Ndorobo or Wanderoo – for whom such a background is very likely, and who are all gradually abandoning their old lifestyles and dislikes amid the inexorable advance of “civilization”.
Many Kalenjin played key roles in the founding of the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU – now disbanded), but the most famous of Kalenjin in recent years was Kenya’s second president, Daniel Arap Moi, a Tugen from Baringo District. As he was from a small ethnic group, his presidency at first avoided the accusations of tribalism levelled so bitterly against Kenyatta. But Moi’s firm grip on the reins of power was increasingly exercised through the Kalenjin-dominated civil service, rather than the more ethnically mixed cabinet. In 1992, when democratic elections first took place, there were tribal clashes, often coordinated from behind the scenes, with the “ethnic cleansing” of non-Kalenjin (usually Kikuyu incomers) from the Rift Valley by groups of surprisingly well-organized young men. The same story was repeated at election time in 1997, 2002 and 2007.