Migori County

Discover Migori County

View of rural landscape in Migori County.  Image Courtesy of Phil Hill
View of rural landscape in Migori County. Image Courtesy of Phil Hill

Brief Overview of Migori County

Most travellers take in a tour of Migori County, either on their way to Tanzania through Isebania or on their way back from the Masai Mara National Reserve through Kilgoris Town. On the map, Migori is relatively small, wedged between Narok, Kisii and Homa Bay Counties with its western boundary straddling Lake Victoria. It’s reached via A1 Nairobi-Isebania Road through Ahero, Oyugis and Suneka before arriving at Rongo. End to end it is only 63 kms – from Rongo in the north to Isebania in the south and the border-point to Tanzania. The drive across Migori takes trippers through some of the prettiest sugar farms in Kenya.

Holiday-makers from the Masai Mara National Reserve with a day to spare can swing over to Migori via Kilgoris and enjoy the longer more scenic route back to Nairobi through sites like the Thimlich Ohinga (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Gogo Falls and Macalder Mines. Along the shores of Lake Victoria, trippers can enjoy great sights and sunsets at Muhuru Bay.  For the more adventurous, the Migingo Island provides a unique opportunity to explore the life and culture of this small fishing Island settlement.  From Migori County, the road offers many picturesque views as this meanders through a reposeful and rural back-country.

Migori County is at the heart of the tropics, bordered by the Lake Victoria to the west, yet, the climate over most of the area, thanks to the altitude, is pleasant.  With a massive improvement to the roads, travel to Migori has all changed and access to its destinations is easier and trippers can now easily combine options. Well-known for the Migori Gold Belt, Migori owes its geological importance to a narrow zone of gold which runs east-south-east in the valley of Migori River in the eastern quarter of the county and just 16 kms north of the Kenya-Tanzania boundary. The gold-belt is more popular as Macalder Mines. Gold is believed to have been discovered here as early as 1904, but was not in ‘workable quantities’.

Salient Features of Migori County

  • County Number 44
  • Area – 2586 km2
  • Altitude – 4921 ft
  • Major Towns – Rongo, Awendo, Migori
  • Borders – Narok, Kisii, Homabay

Brief History of Migori County

The South Nyanza Sugar Company Limited (Sony Sugar Company), one of the most recognizable industries in the county, was established in 1976 and is found at Awendo.  The Company serves over 25,000 cane farmers (the main activity in Migori County) in ten of its districts within the cane growing zones of Gucha, Suri, Transmara, Kuria, Migori, Uriri, Rongo, Kisii South, Ndhiwa and Awendo.

View of Gogo Falls (spillway).  Photo Courtesy of Geo View
View of Gogo Falls (spillway). Image Courtesy of Geo View

Places of Interest in Migori County

1. Got Kweru Shrine

Locally dubbed the “Calvary”, this religious shrine is a cemetery for Lego Maria Sect where their influential leader and eternal spiritual mediator Baba Simeo Lodvikus Simeo Melkio Ondetto was buried in 1988. Lego Maria of African Church Movement “was initiated by repeated appearances of a mystic woman to several Roman Catholic members delivering messages about the incarnation of the son of God as a black man.” Legio Maria was legally registered in Kenya in 1966 as a religious movement and then expanded rapidly in the late 1960’s to 1980’s, especially in Luo Nyanza. The annual pilgrimage to Got Kweru Shrine by its followers from far and wide, which is held in the first week of September, attracts about 10,000 members. A visit to this site offers travellers insights into one of the recherché misunderstood religious movements in Kenya. Got Kweru Shrine in located in Suna West region, and about 12 kms south of Migori Town.

2. Gogo Falls

Midway between Migori and Macalder at Kajulu stands the Gogo Falls or Gogo spillway. Commissioned in 1957, it dams the concentrated headwaters (about 15 ms wide) of River Gucha sometimes known as River Kuja and which is used for power production. The resulting Gogo Dam is about 1 km2. The dam provides an adequate supply for the downstream areas with water stored from high flow. Plans are underway to increase the reservoir wall to 34 ms. Much of Migori is drained by River Gucha and its main tributary River Migori. River Gucha has its headwaters in the Kisii Highlands while River Migori rises in Maasailand; the two converging near Macalder and flowing to Lake Victoria as Gucha-Migori. The main activity at Gogo Falls for trippers is a walk across the narrowed dam-spillway from where the view of the dam, hillocks and backwoods county can be enjoyed. The views atop Kanyamkago Hill nearby the spillway are also lovely. The little-known Gogo Falls Pre-historic Site, which is neither demarcated nor separated from the surrounding landscape, was an important site in the study of Pastoral Neolithic occupation (domestication of animals) and the iron age occupation. Gogo Falls is found in Rongo Sun-county within Kanyamkago West Location at Gogo Hydro Power Station. It’s located 31 kms west of Migori Town.

3. Gogo Falls Pre-historic Site

Gogo Falls Pre-historic Site is a multi-component open site found in the eastern Lake Victoria basin, not far from Gogo Falls Hydroelectric Plant. “The sequence of occupation horizons at the site spans several millennia over which a number of major technological and economic changes occurred. These include the first appearance of pottery, domestic animals and iron artefacts. Numerous cultural traditions, recognized on the basis of pottery and stone artefact assemblages, are represented in the deposits at the Gogo Falls. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to the reconstruction of the later prehistory of the eastern portion of the Lake Victoria basin” – Peter Robertshaw. Archaeological research in the Kenyan portion of the Lake Victoria basin began with the efforts of an amateur archaeologist, Archdeacon W.E. Owen, who investigated a varied range of sites. Owen made contact with Louis Leakey early in the latter’s career with the result that L. Leakey devoted considerable efforts to investigation of the Pleistocene deposits at Kanam and Kanjera and the Miocene fossdiferous beds on Rusinga Island. An assemblage of pottery from Gogo Falls assigned to “Kansyore ware” was included in Collett and Robertshaw’s (1983) analysis of Kenyan ceramics. This assemblage had been collected from the surface of the site in 1980. Gogo Falls was first mentioned in archaeological literature by Lofgren in 1967, who noted sherds of undecorated hemispherical bowls, two sherds with decoration of parallel channels and another with stamped chevrons. A small excavation made in 1981 at Gogo Falls revealed the first evidence for domestic animals in apparent association with Oltome pottery, leading to speculation about how these animals may have been integrated into a subsistence and settlement system which included the shell middens on the shores of Lake Victoria in which domesticates were absent. The site at Gogo Falls is located on the hillside of Kanyamkago Hills on the west bank of Kuja (Gucha) River beside Gogo Dam.

4. Macalder Mines

The 90 km2 Macalder Mines, more proper Migori Gold Belt, has over decades been exploited by artisan miners using only traditional ball-mill method. Since its origination miners have reverted to some heart-stopping operations to keep their gold industry on its wheels. It is apparent on arrival at Macalder Mines that gold mining has forever changed the landscape of this area, carving deep clefts, creating artificial hillocks and a mishmash of red pools of acid. Miners fearlessly go down narrow shafts, 25 ms deep, with only a torch and swags of courage, which would make most people jump out of their skin to follow suit. “The miners usually go more than 100 feet down to look for gold. The mines have claimed many lives every year but that has not deterred the residents from looking for gold” – Nation Media. All gold produced so far in Kenya has come from either these mine or the opposite-number mines found in Kakamega and Kilimapesa. Following the discovery of gold at Macalder, in 1904, there was a mini gold rush of prospectors in 1922 and heavy machinery was brought in by lorries and ox teams, over very bad roads, leading to the construction of the road to Lologorien to Muhuru, where a pier was built. The Mining Report by Murray Hughes, in 1933, was the last attempt at industrial mining gold. The mines are located 36 kms west of Migori via Migori-Muhuru Road, near Aneko.

Spatial Location of Macalder Mines in Migori County
Spatial Location of Macalder Mines in Migori County

5. Thimlich Ohinga Landscape

Located 46 kms northwest of Migori Town, Thimlich Ohinga thought to be built in 16th Century is arguably the largest and best preserved traditional enclosures depicting early settlements typical of the first pastoral communities in the Lake Victoria Basin. The most obvious features are the dry-stone wall of interlocking brick configuration that encircles the landscape in a fort-like formation, and the low entrances which ensured maximum security. Up until now, its surrounding landscape has retained its jungle-like atmosphere. Formerly known as the Liare Valley or the “frightening dense forest”, this area presented unique challenges not least of impending predatory wildlife, tribal hostilities and brutal raiders. Inside the larger stone wall are shorter walls that demarcate the property into different areas, for livestock and occupation. Further, the areas for occupation have been clearly demarcated in accordance to the traditional system of living still seen widely in the region. It provides an invaluable yardstick to reference the spatial planning and early settlement patterns around Lake Victoria basin. Thimlich Ohinga Landscape was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2018, “as a stellar testimony of settlement patterns and spatial community relations in Lake Victoria area, which documents the successive occupation by different people from various linguistic origins during an important episode in the settlement between the 16th and 17th centuries. It is located 10 kms north of Macalder Site, and reached via Migori-Muhuru Road or Migori-Nyarongi Road.

6. Mugabo Caves

Shortly before arriving at Muhuru Bay where Migori-Muhuru Road terminates, one may be interested in making a quick stop at the Mugabo Caves. This natural rock formation with a house-like layout and often used as a religious shrine is a fine caving site. There is a naturally formed staircase that leads inside the dark lofty caves. The rooftop offers a lovely viewing ledge from where the Alulu and Migingo Islands are easily sighted. Then, there’s the scenic landscape around these caves which is scattered about with large boulders and rocks eke-named the Mugabo Stones which makes for a great walking tour. Open year-round, a visit here requires a good watch for weather, sturdy shoes, and a flashlight to scout its deeps.  Mugabo Caves are located about 30 kms from Thimlich Ohinga Landscape, and about 3 kms before Muhuru Bay via the Migori-Muhuru Road.

7. Muhuru Bay

Surprisingly little-known is the delightful beach at Muhuru Bay on the western boundary of Migori County with Lake Victoria. Here are several kilometres of white sands, and, believe or not, scarcely any resorts. The fact that very little fishing goes on around Muhuru Bay also means this bay is clean, untravelled and unexpectedly tranquil. There are, however, some modest hotels which offer descent accommodation: these include the Matoso Sea Lodge and Restaurant and Muhuru Bay Resort at Muhuru Bay; and Lake Victoria Beach Resort and Supanova Hotel at Sori Town. What’s more, the recently tarmacked C13 Road – from Muhuru Bay through Kuria and Kilgoris Town – makes this easy to access.

8. Migingo Island

Anyone interested in a cultural passage into the rarefied and fascinating life of a fishing village ought to visit Migingo Island. This tiny 0.49-acres island about 20 kms coastal from Muhuru Bay lauded for its nile perch is covered entirely by iron-clad humpies almost to the waters edge. Within the island, where close to 131 people of mostly fishermen and fish traders call home, are narrow isles and pathways where trippers can explore. In 2009, Migingo Island made headlines when it was claimed by both Kenya and Uganda put in drive by an independent survey which claimed it was 510 ms beyond Kenya’s maritime boundary, and in Uganda. The findings were also backed by Google Earth Imagery. “Since 1926, territorial ownership of the island has been consistently shown on maps and in language on official documents as Kenyan”. Alulu Island sits about 3 kms away.

Migingo Island: a rocky marriage between Uganda and Kenya.

9. Trans Mara Conservation Area

Trans Mara, which means “beyond the Mara”, occurs northwest of Masai Mara National Reserve along the outer side of the Siria Escarpment, beyond which the land rises to over 6,500 ft covered by a mosaic of semi-deciduous and dry-deciduous forest and acacia savanna woodlands. The Trans Mara Conservation Area forms a vital dispersal area for Maasai Mara National Reserve. Nyakweri Forest, covering 500 km2, is its largest remaining forest. Patches of Nyakweri Forest still remains under the group ranches including Kimintet and Oloirien which directly border Mara Triangle, and are designated as protected wildlife areas. Moreover, the area has plenty of wildlife and is a time-honoured nursery for herds of elephants. It is also recorded to have more than 100 floral varieties and almost 300 bird species. The rate of destruction, for charcoal burning and wood, has been quite alarming: “unchecked clearing of the forest will continue to shrink habitats, not only for the elephants, but also for the rare giant hogs, as well as, birds species not found anywhere else.” -Report by the Anne Kent Fund.

Section of the Maclader Gold Mines.  Photo Courtesy of ENCA
A Section of the Maclader Gold Mines. Image Courtesy of ENCA

Geography of Migori County

Migori County has altitudes that range over between 1140 ms at Lake Victoria in Nyatike Sub-county to 4625 ms in Uriri Sub-county. Undulating hills covers most of Migori County with few stretches of flat land. Some of the hills found in Migori County include: Nyakune (4625m), Ogengo (4300m) and God Sibwoche (1475m) in Uriri sub-county; God Kwer (1420m), Mukuro Hill (1454m) and Nyabisawa (1489m) in Migori Sub-county; God Kwach (1340m) in Nyatike Sub-county; Renjoka (1592m) in Kuria West Sub-county; and Maeta (1733m) in Kuria East Sub-county.  The main rivers in Migori County are Kuja, Migori and the Riana – which originate in the highland region of Kisii and Narok Counties.

Land Use in Migori County

More than 80% of the total land in Migori County is arable and farmed by small holders. It is approximated that 85% of the arable land is put into use while 15% is left fallow. This unexploited land if put into use could potentially boost food security and improve on the living standards of the people of Migori County. The mean holding acreage of land in Migori County is 3-acres for small scale farmers and 7-acres for large farmlands. Small scale farms are mainly used for subsistence farming while the large scale farms are utilized for livestock and cash crop farming, mainly tobacco and sugarcane. Migori has no national parks.

Highlights in Migori County

Migori County has no national game parks and game reserves. However, there is potential for harnessing the existing cultural and historical sites. Among the major sites include: Thimlich Ohinga, God Kweru and Mugabo Caves. These have the potential to attract trippers due to the richness of their historical value, if sufficient marketing and improvement of the roads is enhanced. In addition, Migori is rich in culture, given the presence of various communities. Also the presence of the lake and beaches along the shores of Lake Victoria is a highlight.

Population in Migori County

Migori County has an average population density of 355 people / km2 with Kuria West having the highest density population of 490 people / km2 and Nyatike having the lowest density of 213 people / km2. The population of Migori County according to the 2009 population census was 917,170 – expected to grow at a rate of 3.8% per annum to stand at 1,028,028 people in 2012 and 1,243,272 people in 2017.  Migori County is youthful: Children below 15 years constitute 49% of the population while those below 30 years constitute 78% of the population.  It has 5 towns: Migori, Kehancha, Awendo, Rongo and Isebania with a combined population of 137,112 which represent 14 % of the total county.

View of the Thimlich Ohinga Landscape.  Photo Courtesy of The Treasures Blog
Thimlich Ohinga Landscape. Image Courtesy of The Treasures Blog

Airports in Migori County

Migori County has three airstrips at Migori (Lichota), Macalder and Kehancha. None of the airstrips has bitumen surface, and these are all in a state of dis-use.

Roads in Migori County

Migori County borders Tanzania and it is traversed by 104.6 kms of tamacked road including A1 Road that links Kenya with Tanzania through Isebania. This is the only road that is bitumen.  The rest of the road network in the county is made up of 1928 kms, of which 25% are gravel surface and 75% is earth surface.

Climate in Migori County

Long rains in Migori County occur between March and May, while the shorter rains are between September and November. The driest months are December to February.  Temperatures range annually between 24 and 31 Degrees Celsius.

Migori County Distance Chart
Migori County Distance Chart

View of Muhuru Bay in Nyatike.  Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
Muhuru Bay in Nyatike. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

National Monuments in Migori County

  1. Thimlich Ohinga
  2. Macalder Mines

Migori County Map

Migori County Map