Taita Taveta County


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Spatial Location of Taita Taveta County
Spatial Location of Taita Taveta County

Brief Overview of Taita Taveta County

In the boomy economy of Kenya, intrinsically tied to the expanding population implying more pressure of the limited fertile land, swivelling towards the brink of overload, where wildlife has been distanced to the most remote corners, the Tsavo Conservation Area provides the closest thing to an untamed wilderness and is a crucial element in Kenya’s wildlife conservation efforts that serves as a meritorious reminder that all in not lost. Covering 21,000 km2 and the largest protected wildlife complex in Kenya, it pieces itself as an outdoor encyclopedia to explore the wildest Africa. Here, you find yourself in a strange country where men are rarer than animals. Where it is not hard to understand how 25 million years of evolution gave Tsavo’s ‘red elephants’ their emblematic trunks suited to uproot a mature tree in one go, yet, powerful when showing affection. Tsavo is a spectacular wild exposition; a little like visiting a zoo but one of a mega extent. Established as a singular entity consisted of Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Chyulu Hills National Parks, cupping about 4% of the total land surface of Kenya, Tsavo Conservation Area is the most patronized wildlife protected habitation in Kenya drawing in an average of 350K visitors annually, ergo its proximity to the Coast Region of Kenya gives it a big advantage over many National Reserves in Kenya.

Resembling a roughed-out five-sided polygon in south-western Kenya, 140 km northwest of Mombasa and 380 km southeast of Nairobi City, the generally flat Taita Taveta County falls under the Coast Region of Kenya going by its altitude, soils, natural and cultural resources. 62% of Taita Taveta County is embraced by the immense Tsavo National Parks – Tsavo East and West. Its other feature of astounding natural beauty is the Taita Hills Complex. These form an elevated picturesque landscape with an elevation of about 1500 ms, making them visible to all those who pass through the surrounding semi arid Taita-Taveta peneplain either along the A109 Mombasa-Nairobi Road or aboard the Madaraka Express Mombasa-Nairobi train, or otherwise. These heavily populated hills, situated in the Mozambique Belt – a major upper Proterozoic to lower Paleozoic structural unit extending along the east coast of Africa, have permanent springs flowing all year round and good agricultural soils. The county covers an area of 17,083.9 km2 of which 11,100 km2 (a bulk 62% of the land surface area) is under Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. The remaining 5,876 km2 is occupied by ranches, sisal estates, and a small Hilltop forests of 100 km2. There are about 25 ranches. The main land use in ranches is cattle grazing. The three operating sisal estates of the county are the Teita Sisal Estate, Voi Sisal Estate and Taveta Sisal Estate. These ranches are also used for wildlife conservation and tourism. The famous Taita Hills and Saltlick Lodges sanctuary are located in the county.

Taita Taveta County can be divided into two major units: the almost featureless plain which extends into the area from the west and south, and the hilly area to the north-east, which is essentially a series of ridges trending just west of north. Topographically it can be split into three agro-climatic zones: The Upper Zone, Midland Zone and Lower Zone. The upper zone, good for horticultural farming, is comprised of Taita, Mwambirwa and Sagalla Hills areas in altitudes ranging between 304 and 2,208 ms. In the midlands, situated west of the coast range bordering Kwale and Kilifi Counties, the terrain drops steeply into the Nyika Plateau, a harsh wild of gently rolling relief that gradually rises further inland, where the goodly hills, notably of Kilibashi and Kasigau, rise. The lower and transitional zone of Nyika Plateau is consisted of the vast plains where there is ranching, national parks and mining. Mining is noted but carried out in small scale despite the area being endowed with one of the richest minerals deposits in Kenya. These include both industrial minerals and gemstones. Its drawback is that the wealth does not trickle down to the local people, benefitting mainly middlemen, brokers and big players, making it unsustainable, and inequitable.

'Red Elephants' in Tsavo East National Park. Image Courtesy of BigStock
‘Red Elephants’ in Tsavo East National Park. Image Courtesy of BigStock

Salient Features of Taita Taveta County

  • County Number 06
  • Area – 17,084 km2
  • Altitude – 1,390 ft
  • Major Towns – Voi, Mwatate, Taveta
  • Borders – Kajiado, Makueni, Kitui, Taita Taveta, Kilifi, Kwale

Brief History of Taita Taveta County

The Taita people (also known as the Wataita or the Wadawida) announced their arrival on the country we now call Taita Taita Taveta circa 1000 to 1300 AD. Ethnographers believe that this Bantu speakers migrated in from Tanzania. The three sub-tribes of the Wataita – Wadawida who lived around the Dawida Hill, Wasagalla who lived around Sagalla Hill and the Wakasigau who lived around the Kasigau Hill of Taita Hills – with intertwined cultures and customs, their languages mutually understood with varying ease, have co-existed since their settlement here. The lesser-known Wataveta are a minor tribe in Taita Taveta, who live around Taveta. They are a distinct society with their own culture, oral literature and history. But they have for many generations remained obscure. Numerically, too, the Wataveta are quite few. In fact, their community is being threatened with extinction on account of modernisation, inter-marriage and migrations, mostly to the urban centres. As they are small in number, they are always confused with the more influential Taita, probably because they share the same county. One fact that distinguishes the two ethnic groups is that their languages are not mutually intelligible. Their cultures are quite different, too. The Wataveta, however, have always remained a marginalised community, and the tendency has always been to group them alongside the Taita linguistically.

In 1892 there was a confrontation between the British and the Taita. The Taita would have no part acting as porters on the Uganda route. They also harassed the IBEA co. traders and the company retaliated. Renewed resistance in 1897 by the Mwanda section of the Taita was promptly crushed, their villages burned and livestock captured. Besides, their crude weapons and inherently peaceful mannerism were no march for the superior artillery and expedient ambitions of the British. By 1902 the Taita were under British rule. The effectiveness of the colonial administration was momentarily put on the back burner to handle the more pressing crises of a looming all out war with the Germans. The first lethal shot that beckoned the start of World War 1 land campaign in the East African region was fired on August 15th, 1914, at the border town of Taveta in Taita Taveta County. The District Commissioner fired the shot from the then Taita Taveta Police Station. That deciding shot killed a German soldier, whose grave is found at the Taita Cemetery. This was instigated by the German soldiers from Tanzania who had invaded the British Taveta border post, killing a native guard, Murimi Mwiti, who was manning the outpost. Forthwith, the German General led the British Empire forces on a four year snipe hunt starting on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro further southerly into Tanzania, and Mozambique.

After the dust settled from the rampages of war, and the Kenya-Uganda Railway complete and pounding the pavement of success in British East Africa, most of Taita Taveta, along which the railway line passed through, was declared Crown Land, the exceptions being two blocks of alienated land in the north, one south and east of Mwatate planted with sisal and a second block south-west of Bura where a cattle ranching project was started early in 1955. A narrow strip of land between these blocks and extending as far as five kilometres south of the rail way became part of the Taita Native Land Unit where locals were settled and cultivated the lands, the crop being largely maize with a little cassava. As a result, only around Maktau, in the north-west, was there, for many years since, reasonable settling. Here some maize was grown near the railway, but the key occupation of the inhabitants was cattle-herding. Just as in Kenya’s coast area, the tribes of Taita Taveta resisted British occupation. The British disrupted this by imposing leaders of their choice, who were unpopular, to control the natives.

Old Railway Station at Maktau. Image Courtesy of Kenya Railways
Old Railway Station at Maktau. Image Courtesy of Kenya Railways
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64 Attractions in Taita Taveta County, arranged as one would visit these - north, west then south - with aid of in-depth narratives, images, strip maps and distance chart:

Chyulu Hills National Park, Kisula Caves, Kampi ya Kanzi Lodge, Tsavo West National Park, Kamboyo Cottage, Shetani Lava Flow, Chaimu Crater, Five Sister's Hills, Mzima Springs, Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge, Ngulia Hills, Ngulia Hills Rhino Sanctuary, Kitchwa Tembo Hill, Finch Hattons Camp, Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Chala, Crystal Caves of Lake Chala, Voyager Ziwani Camp, Ziwani Gicheha Farm Estate, Njoro Springs, Grogan’s Castle, Lake Jipe, Lake jipe Safari Camp, Salaita Hill, The Snipers Tree, Taita Military Cemetery, Taveta Indian Cemetery, Maktau Railway Station, Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, Taita Hills, Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge, Lumo Wildlife Sanctuary, Lion’s Bluff Lodge, Lualenyi Camp, Mwakitau Hill, Ndolwa Wildlife Sanctuary, Bura Mission Church, Vuria Hill, Taita Hills Complex, Wundanyi Bluff, TRS Ngangao Forest, Kino Caves, Mount Sagalla, The Rev. Wray Memorial Museum, Ngutuni Wildlife Sanctuary, Volunteer International Camp Tsavo, Mount Kasigau, Kasigau Base Camp, Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, Teita Sisal Estate, Mbulia Conservancy, Tsavo East National Park, Yatta Plateau, Tsavo Springs, Emusaya Zone, Galdessa Camp, Lugard's Falls, Mudanda Rock, Voi War Cemetery, Kanderi Swamp, Voi Wildlife Lodge, Aruba Dam, Taru Desert

Geography, Land-Use, Highlights, Population, Roads, Airports, Climate and National Monuments in Taita Taveta County