Isiolo, hitherto a backwater town populated by soldiers and itinerant herding communities, is being given a complete makeover. It is being reshaped into a glittering tourist resort and a major hub along the proposed Lamu port to Ethiopia transport corridor. Report by Anver Versi and Wanjohi Kabukuru.
Isiolo is one of those middle-of-nowhere towns that is considered both remote and dull by some (especially civil servants) and romantic by others. It was the capital of the once notorious Northern Frontier District, often the site of raids by Shifta bandits on camels from Somalia.
The countryside ranges from semi-arid to very arid and the traditional mode of living was pastoralism. Isiolo also has a large market which attracts traders from the surrounding areas. Most of the people are Muslim and the city boasts a magnificent mosque; there is also an iconic church with two bell towers. Studding the rugged landscape are five national parks, many of which are considered by conservationists as the ‘real, raw Africa’.
Isiolo gained international fame with the publication of Born Free by Joy Adamson in 1960, three years before Kenya’s independence from Britain. Her game-warden husband George had shot and killed a lioness and later realised that its aggressive behaviour had been because she was protecting her three cubs.
Saddened and feeling guilty, the British pair raised the cubs. Two were sent off to zoos in Europe, but the last one, Elsa, was retrained to return to the wild. Eventually she was released into the wild where she produced cubs but continued to visit the couple from time to time.
Joy Adamson’s book on these events became an international best seller. Later a film of the book, starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, became a box office hit and has been very influential in inspiring several generations of people around the world to take up conservation.
The Born Free Foundation continues its invaluable conservation work.