Kisii County

Discover Kisii County

View of landscape of Kisii County.  Photo Courtesy
The Landscape around Kisii County. Image Courtesy

Brief Overview of Kisii County

End to end, Kisii County covers only 70 kms. A jaunt that’s easily accomplished in an afternoon’s joyride, taking to its relatively good roads that are exemplified by unrelenting curves with pretty scenery. Kisii is conspicuously hilly, with few level patches and, it’s dissected by sizeable rivers that form its striking dendritic pattern. Although it is the second smallest county in Western Kenya, following Nyamira County, it is by far the most densely populated county in rural Kenya.  

What Kisii County lacks in a temperate terrain is made up for with fertile soils and an almost perfect equatorial altitude. As a result, it is best-known for its bumper and unwavering food production which significantly contributes to the national food basket. Across its many ridges and valleys are ever-green farms abounding with produce. The altitude in Kisii County ranges from 1,200 ms, in the west, to about 2,130 ms, in the east. The general incline is from east to west.

Some of the obvious hills in Kisii County include Nyamasibi, Sameta, Taracha Kiamwasi, Kiong’anyo, Kiongongi, Kiombeta, Sombogo, Nyanchwa, and the Kegochi. These hills are traversed by numerous permanent rivers, which flow westwards into Lake Victoria – most noteworthy being Gucha, Mogusii, Riana, Mogonga and Iyabe Rivers. The probability of drought and floods in Kisii County is low, mainly because, its reliable rainfall is soaked up well by its soils, which run off the excess water through the elaborate ancient dendritic drainage.

Salient Features of Kisii County

  • County Number 45
  • Area – 1317 km2
  • Altitude – 5036 ft
  • Major Towns – Kisii, Tabaka, Ogembo
  • Borders – Nyamira, Narok, Homabay, Migori

Brief History of Kisii County

Leading up to their settlement on Gusii Highlands, the Gusii Community were predominately pastoralists, who also practiced small scale mixed-sunsistence agriculture and fishing.  Their epicenter, Kisii Town, was originally established by British soldiers who were being forced to retreat from Lake Victoria by heavy gunfire from German soldiers and gun boats during the Great Wars of the early 20th Century. Later, Kisii Town was chosen as the District Headquarters for the larger South Nyanza and Kisii territories, giving it the impetus to grow rapidly. 

A section of Kisii Town.  Photo Courtesy of Aptantech
A section of Kisii Town. Image Courtesy of Aptantech

Places of Interest in Kisii County

1. Gucha River

On the sheer weight of its importance and volume, the Gucha River warrants its place as a must-see sight in Kisii County. Best seen along the bridges crossing it or at the crest of some of Kisii’s impressive hillocks, Gucha or Kuja River in the southwest area of Kisii County, and its tributaries, is one of the main rivers that drains it.  Rising in the upper reaches of the Kiabonyoru Hills in neighbouring Nyamira County, Gucha River then traverses the entire Gusii Region – Kisii and Nyamira – with three impressive waterfalls along its courseway, which are still underutilized. As it runs across Kisii County, the Gucha River loops to form the Mogonga River. From Kisii, Gucha River flows westerly to Migori County where it converges with Migori River and flows as Kuja-Migori River to Lake Victoria.

2. Tabaka Soapstone

The mining of soapstone at Tabaka is a significant economic activity in Kisii and which provides income for over 7000 people. Takaba soapstone is mainly used in the crafting of intricate carvings, eventually sold in both the local and global markets. The soapstone craft and carving at Tabaka in Gucha South has been on-going since 1885 and is one of the treasured tourism exploits in the County. At Tabaka, the main road is lined by abounding curio shops stocked with these beautifully crafted sculptures and souvenirs.  A visit to Tabaka Town, and better still a purchase of any memento, is a great gesture to pay homage to this trade. The Tabaka Soapstone Industry is found at Tabaka, 24 kms west of Kisii Town.

Spatial Location of Tabaka Soapstone Industry in Kisii County
Spatial Location of Tabaka Soapstone Industry in Kisii County

3. Emanga Ridge

Aside from being a stunning prominence to sight the rural backwoods, the 100-acres Emanga Ridge, separating Kisii from Nyamira County, is indubitably the most significant cultural shrine in Kisii. As it goes, the original Abagusii Family first settled and thrived at Emanga and as such is reverenced as the ancestral home of the Abagusii Community. Consequently, this ridge has always served as a religious shrine. So significant is the Emanga Ridge that the natives of Kisii dress smartly to the nines when they call in on it. Into the bargain, a museum is envisioned at Emanga Ridge to protect and preserve its integrity and heritage.

Magical scenes of the Manga Hills. Published by KBC

4. Manga Hills

The 5 kms long Manga Hills (also known as Marongo Hills) are a shared asset between Kisii and Nyamira and where the Emanga Ridge is found. These easy-on-the-eye verdorous dell hills are not only an exemplar roadside attraction but are culturally important too. The sporadic volcanic steam eruptions that were sighted at the Manga Hills, in the late 1940’s, only added to their enigma and mystique. Some of the highlights around the Manga Hills include the Emanga Ridge, Rigena rie Manga Rocks, Engoro ya Manga (the endless hole,which is thought to have been linked to Lake Victoria), the landscapes of the Southern areas of Kisii with distance views of Lake Victora catchment, the Ngora Mwaga or the invisible Lake Okari, the Igena Monto Rocks, and close by Ufanisi Resort.

Spatial Location of the Manga Hills in Kisii County
Spatial Location of the Manga Hills in Kisii County

5. Lake Okari

Lake Okari, one of the best hidden gems in Kisii County, is a tiny and privately-owned lake, owned by the Okari Family. Lake Okari, as with many landmarks in Kisii, is rife with catchy mysteries and old wives tales. As one goes, there was, in times gone by, a family that lived on the space now occupied by the lake, which formed when the house was suddenly sunk, for inconclusive reasons, and it was affectionately named after the head of the vanquished household, Okari. Myth or not, Lake Okari is a favored community recreation place and groups of young men meet here to enjoy a game of Ajua (local draft board game) or to cozy chat.

6. Kisii Boma Cemetery

This is a hundred yards from the Kisii Government Office and contains only one grave of Captain Edward Gerald Mytton Thorneycroft, the Adjutant of 4KAR. In 1914, he was placed in command, and his force consisted of ‘G’ Company 4KAR based at Kisumu, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies 4KAR from Masaka in Uganda, and 50 British East African police from Kisumu, as a British response to the German occupation of Kisii, who had advanced in numbers and sending as many troops as possible from Uganda across Lake Victoria to Kisumu and then on to Kendu, and eventually to Kisii. On the outbreak of the Great War, the energetic military commander in German East Africa (GEA), Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, wasted little time in attacking both Nyasaland and British East Africa (BEA). “Four natural invasion routes were available from German territory into BEA and Schutztruppe troops used all of them.  On the Indian Ocean coast a push on Mombasa was repulsed by the British at Gazi, whilst further to the north-west fierce fighting took place in the thick bush of the Tsavo River Valley.  The more arid route to Kajiado and Nairobi from GEA via Namanga was used by mounted German raiding parties who clashed with detachments of the Magadi Defence Force and East Africa Mounted Rifles.  Also an advance towards Kisumu – the railhead of Uganda Railway, was made along the southern area of Lake Victoria.

Captain Thorneycroft occupied a ridge of high ground overlooking Kisii town on the morning of September 12, 1914, and observed the enemy force parading and preparing to march towards Kisumu.  However the Germans were soon alerted by local Africans that the British were occupying the ridgeline and a determined enemy attack was mounted. Thorneycroft then advanced with a party into Kisii town but he was soon surprised by a German patrol and shot dead. At sundown, both sides having suffered sizable casualties, Captain von Wulfingen, himself wounded, decided to abandon his attack.  He left the wounded that he could not carry and quickly withdrew his survivors back directly towards the border and then across the Mara River in GEA. The next day, September 13, the British re-occupied the gutted Kisii to find 5 wounded Germans and 16 wounded enemy Askari lying on the ground, along with disused rifles, revolvers and supplies.  A military garrison occupied Kisii and troops took stern measures to discipline the looters and to re-establish British East Africa government’s authority. The graves of the Germans who died at Kisii are in the CWGC cemetery at Kisumu.  The burial sites of the dead local askaris of both sides are regrettably unknown.

7. Kisii Golf Club

Founded in 1914 by then Colonial Provincial Administrator in charge of South Kavirondo region, situated 1.5 kms west of the Kisii township along B3 Kisii-Rongo Road and abutting the Gusii Stadium, Kisii Golf Club is a pretty 9-hole course measuring 5,703 yards for men and 4,847 yards for women, with a par of 70 for both. Initially opened to the public for recreation by Kisii County Council for a couple of years, Kisii Golf Club was eventually re-consolidated back as the Golf Club.  Despite its unusual locale at hand with Kisii Town and set on a hill, it offers a good round of golf. Other amenities: lounge, clubhouse and pro-shop.

8. Itibo Resort

Itibo Resort constitutes part of the fast-growing collection of country resorts and garden hotels in Kisii County.  Itibo Resort is strategically located just a stone’s throw from the Kisii Town and within a quiet rural landscape. It is an ideal destination for business and casual trippers, offering the choice of single, double, triple, standard twin and standard family rooms all with access to the outdoor area and fireplace, terrace and gazebos, watering hole, barbecue area and play area for relaxation. It is found 5km from Kisii, off Kisii to Migori Road.

9. Kamel Park Hotel

This is Kisii County’s newest per-excellence resort. It is spread over some five acres 7.5 kms south of the main township along Kisii-Kilgoris Road, within the healthful countryside of Nyaruga, and it was opened to the public in 2018. It is approachable from Masai Mara National Reserve by a 120 kms drive along the good road through Lolgorien, Kilgoris and Ogembo. In a bid to attract tourists, and to find accommodation for the blooming number of travellers visiting the region, Kamel Park Hotel, raised in a modern design, caters luxuriously to both business and leisure travellers in plenty of tastefully furnished standard and deluxe suites spread over the triple-storeyed hotel complex. For visitors who just can’t tear themselves away from this miniature paradise, Kamel Park Hotel has a capacious swimming pool just outside the main hotel building. Good food and spacious lounges with large open gazebos offer repose during the cool days.

10. Kerokah Landscape

The landscape around Kerokah seen along Kisii to Sotik Road just 25 kms from Kisii offers one of the memorable view of Kisii’s hillocks. Unique to the Kerokah landscape is the ancient farming system, dating back to the early 1900’s, which is quite advanced and surprisingly efficient. Kerokah is the highest upland area within Kisii with an altitude of about 2151 ms, and where farming requires some innovations to burgeon. Dissimilar to most parts of Kenya, Kisii County has no clear-cut dry season, and this region is almost perpetually wet. As such, and to mitigate soil erosion, the farmers developed an advanced system of terraces and gabions, alternated with grasses, that dominate the striking Kerokah landscape.

Spatial Location of Keroka in Kisii County
Spatial Location of Keroka in Kisii County

11. Nyangweta Forest

The 104-hectares Nyangweta Forest found in the southern region is Kisii’s only gazetted forest. Aside from its hilltops which have been rubbed-out by decades of uncontrolled grazing and destruction, the Nyangweta Hill and the adjoining Ibencho Hill piece themselves together as a pleasing landscape. Both these hills are designated as birding sites. Nyangweta Forest was planted with commercial pine, cypress trees and eucalyptus in 1958, and which were ready for harvesting after 30 years, in 1988. However, following the intervention of stakeholders, the local people and the Friends of the Nyangweta Forest to protect and conserve it, Nyangweta Forest was eventually gazetted in 2017 and designated as protected.

View of Nyangweta Forest.   Photo Courtesy of Nation MG
View of Nyangweta Forest. Image Courtesy of Nation MG

Geography of Kisii County

Kisii County is marked by a hilly topography with numeours ridges and valleys. It can be divided into three main topographical zones. The first zone cover areas lying below 1,500 ms asl. in the western region including Suneka, Marani and Nyamarambe. The second zone covers areas lying between 1,500 to 1,800 ms asl. in the Western to Central regions including Keumbu and Sameta, Eastern Marani and Gucha River basin. The third zone covers areas lying above 1,800 ms asl. in the areas of eastern and southern Keumbu, Masaba and in Mosocho.

Land Use in Kisii County

The land holders in Kisii are estimated at 135,000 of mainly farmers engaged in mixed farming. Farm holdings are compact, ranging from 0.2 ha to 2.1 ha. The small size of land holdings is due to high population pressure and the cultural practice of subdivision (for each son in the family to inherit a portion). These subdivisions have affected agriculture, since high potential land is converted to residential land.  The main crops produced in Kisii are: maize, bananas, beans, potatoes, tea, sugarcane, coffee and horticultural crops.  The acreage under cash crops in Kisii is about 17,800 ha while that under food-crop is about 72,100 ha.  

Highlights in Kisii County

There are a handful potential tourist attraction sites in Kisii County like Tabaka Soapstone, River Gucha Falls, selected forests for nature walk and trekking, agro-tourism (through the agricultural plantations), cultural tourism through home-stays, festivals, local cuisine, among others – that all need to be better exploited.  Due to the high population density in the county, almost all the land is put to maximum agricultural use, almost completely displacing wildlife. Only a few wild animals like porcupines, ant bears, monkeys, snakes and diversified species of birds live in the bushy river valleys.  Kisii County does not have any tourist class hotels. However, there are a number of hotels which offer varying services. Among the favoured resorts are Ufanisi and Dados, within the Kisii Town and Nyakoe, Sameta lodge, and Itibo Resort set outside of the township.

Population in Kisii County

Kisii’s population density in 2012 was 939 people/km2. The population density ranges from 800 in Nyaribari Masaba to 1,344 in Kitutu Chache. Based on the 2009 Population and Housing Census Report, Kisii’s population was 1,152,282, projected at 1,236,996 in 2012, and 1,367,049 in 2017. The total population of the major town centres was 125,241 in 2009, and this was projected to reach 132,982 by 2012, and 146,968 by 2017. Kisii Town has the largest population, given that it is home to thriving businesses, institutions of higher learning and banks. Other major towns in Kisii are Keroka, Suneka, Ogembo and Tabaka. The poverty level in Kisii County is placed at 51% compared with the national poverty index of 43.8% and life expectancy in the County is opined at 56 years.  

View of the Itibo Resort near Kisii Town.  Photo Courtesy of Priceline
View of the Itibo Resort near Kisii Town. Image Courtesy of Priceline

Airports in Kisii County

Kisii County has one airstrip at Suneka in Bonchari Sub-County which requires reconditioning to facilitate air transport but it is within proximity to the Kisumu Airport and Homabay Airstrip, making it relatively accessible by road and air.

Roads in Kisii County

The bitumenized roads pass through main urban hubs including Kisii, Ogembo, Keroka, Nyamache, Gesusu, Keumbu, Nyamarambe, Marani, Kenyenya and Suneka. Due to high rainfall and the hilly terrain in the County, there is need to tarmac more roads and better the rural access roads to make them accessible.

Climate in Kisii County

Kisii County exhibits a highland equatorial climate resulting in the bi-modal rainfall pattern with an average annual rainfall of 1,500mm. The long rains are between March and June while the short rains are received from September to November; with the months of January and July being comparatively drier. The maximum temperatures in the County range between 21°C and 30°C, while the minimum temperatures range between 15°C and 20°C. Generally, its high and relatively liable rainfall year-round is accompanied by moderate temperatures.

Kisii County Distance Chart
Kisii County Distance Chart

Kamek Park Hotel along Kiogoro-Kisii-Kilgoris Road.  Photo Courtesy
Kamek Park Hotel along Kiogoro-Kisii-Kilgoris Road. Image Courtesy

National Monuments in Kisii County

There are no designated national monuments in Kisii County

Kisii County Map

Kisii County Map