To the unacquainted eyes of a stranger staring at the little hilly town of Kabarnet at sunset, it could easily pass off as just another breezy town on a hill painted crimson by the rays of a setting October sun. To a native however, or a one-time traveler who found home here, Kabarnet is so much more. Though it still carries traces of past age communication; an old post office and a few telephone booths that are obviously out of use, this town is the nerve center of the larger Baringo County. It houses the County Assembly Hall and the former District Office that is now the County Headquarters for what used to be the six Districts of Baringo namely: Baringo Central, East Pokot, Koibatek, North Baringo , Marigat, and Mogotio where the equator passes . These regions in total, have a population of about 555,561 people and occupy a total land surface area of 6,499.4 square kilometers. Baringo Central in which Kabarnet town is part of covers a land area of 2,477.9 square kilometers.
As it is in the rift valley region of Kenya, a journey to Kabarnet through either the Eldoret- Iten-Kabarnet road or the Nakuru -Kabarnet route will no doubt leave many travelers breathless thanks to its many landforms. These include deep eroded gorges, valleys, abandoned river channels, streams and rounded hills.
Traces of modernization can be felt in this little town with modern architecture buildings mushrooming day and night. This perhaps, a sign of the aftermath of the new devolved government. Real estate development is however, stifled by the rather rocky and mountainous topography of the region which makes expansion towards some areas impossible.
The international connection in the town is fostered by the six cyber cafes which have slowly become a core component of the towns’ life. The cybers are mostly visited by the young who want to interact with their peers on social media and by adults who go in search of jobs online or to download their KRA pins at a cost of kshs. 100 per download.
It would be virtually impossible to go through the town and not notice the two monumental buildings. The first, a well built AIC church house and the second, a classical Cathedral with stained glass windows that belongs to the St. Mary’s catholic church. Both, a clear indicator that the town’s dwellers are religious faithfuls who still cling onto their Sunday morning faiths inspite of the now popular TV preachings that have turned many a Kenyans to bedside Christianity.
Both churches lie side by side and are directly opposite the towns’ best built institution. The Kenya School of Government formerly the Government Training InstItute(G.T.I)
To the north of the town lies the main municipal market whose major trading days are Mondays and Thursdays . On these days, the market receives crops from the small scale farmers in the locality; grains from Elgeyo Marakwet county and milk from Eldama Ravine otherwise known as ‘Ravine’. Among the major fruits sold cheaply in the market are papaws which grow wildly in the Kerio valley and tomatoes that are in abundance in the nearby lowland town of Marigat. It is, to many, a strange market for it never has cattle auctioning, an act considered a necessity in many true markets.
Unlike the women in the neighboring villages, the Kabarnet town market women are not afraid to get loans to expand their businesses. This they do through, among other institutions, the Kenya Women Finance Trust. The microfinance successfully lends out about two million shillings a month to the county. 70% of this is loaned to trader womenfolk in the market. ‘Village women are afraid of loans, they see a loan as another persons’ property. However, the town traders are open and borrow very large amounts which most repay within a year, they are very entrepreneurial, these Kabarnet women.’ Says a loan salesman from the microfinance. He added that besides the market women, the other businesses that go for the loans include Agrovet shops, Farmers and Chemists. The men are however not left behind for they come in as loan guarantors for their wives and direct beneficiaries when they co-own businesses with the women.
One could argue that business success in this town is partly attributed to the habits here. Kabarnet dwellers when told the price of a commodity, do not bargain at all. They simply pay the stated amount without so much as batting an eyelid. Mtumba (second hand clothes) aren’t popular for the locals buy ready made clothes from the numerous boutiques in the town.
A great attraction of Kabarnet town is its people with their warmth, welcome and courteousness more so to strangers. They will win over your heart and provide you with the impetus to plan a return visit even before you leave the town. I have personally lost count of the number of times the public transport drivers have taken me right to the doorstep of my hotel room regardless of how far away from the bus stop the hotel is.
The locals you meet in the streets, in your hotel or even in the market place will not leave you without a kind word or a warm smile. You may not understand everything a Kabarnet dweller says for they are in the habit of communing in their local language, but if you do understand it, then it will probably have been a smile inducing remark, for they are a good natured bunch of people.
Because of their trustful nature, you will see the locals entrusting strangers with valuables to be delivered to whomever they are meant for in the next centre or village. Usually, the valuables are delivered as the people are quite honest.
Perhaps their habit of being courteous is best illustrated through an event a friend encountered recently. A driver, whose car was filled up, stopped to apologize and inform a waiting traveler on the road that he was sorry he couldn’t carry him because the car was already full.
Kenyans love to talk politics and Kabarnet dwellers are no exception. Here, it is inborn to be an expert on the politics of the region. I therefore wasn’t too surprised on Tuesday morning when I couldn’t get a copy of the East African newspaper, for it was already sold out. You are guaranteed a free political tip or two when you stop at a vendors’ to buy the paper, as there is always a large number of self-declared political analysts who either complain vehemently or show incredible stoicism towards their preferred politician.
On the outskirts of the town, about four kilometers on the Kabarnet-kabartonjo road lies the towns’ most prestigious hotel, the ‘Kabarnet Hotel’ which caters for workers and guests with large expendable incomes. It is owned by former president Daniel Arap Moi and boasts of being the only hotel in the town that has porridge and a swimming pool. A recent visit to Sinkoro, another good hotel in the town, reminded me of what it means to have an English breakfast in the sun. The other good hotels are ‘The Peoples’ Paradise Hotel ‘ which has amazing French fries and the Sports line Hotel said to be owned by the successful athlete Paul Tergat
Kabarnet dwellers’ favorite meal is goat meat known as koriema (aptly named after a center where its sold) . An often told timeless tale is that of the naturally salted goat meat from Koriema, a centre 30 minutes away on the Nakuru-Kabarnet road. The area is famed for having the best goat meat in the whole region. It is said that because the region is dry, the goats eat herbs which are not only medicinal, but also very key is flavoring the goat meat. No wonder roast goat meat from koriema need not be salted. It already contains enough salt thanks to the herbs and the occasional salt licks.
The towns’ fresh milk is supplied by farmers from the nearby villages. One of them, a gentleman called Koima, collects approximately 300litres of milk each day from the small scale farmers in Talai , a center 19 km away and delivers it to the Dairy Cooperative Society in town. The Cooperative then sells milk to the hotels and offices in town at a retail price of between 42-50 shillings a liter.
Processed packet milk is not popular and is rarely used here. No wonder almost all supermarkets sell only the long lasting packs which go for about 70 shilling for the 500ml pack.
Kabarnet town is home to the only National School in Baringo County, Kapropita Girls which is located about five kilometers away on the Nakuru- Kabarnet road.
It is also home to a one storey white walled National Library building that is located in the hilly area behind the County Headquarters. The Kabarnet national library has a membership of about 1,120 as at 2013 and its annual visitors are around 150,000 . One whoever wonders why the number of males who visit the library daily is more than twice that of females even though the population statistics indicate that the two sex compositions in the region are almost the same. Could it have something to do with the culture? Or is it merely a strange coincidence?
Most of the library visitors however, are children who head straight to the library after school and on weekends. This makes children in Kabarnet among the few modern generation kids who prefer reading to rushing home and watching TV. It also makes the overstated argument ‘Kenyans don’t read’ quite hollow-sounding.
For the town primary schools, the library provides a suitable environment for their library lessons. This helps schools without libraries or those whose libraries are underequipped to successfully provide a wide range of books. The National Library is well equipped with four annual consignments of ordered books arriving from their national headquarters. That they are already creating a digital library and moving their hard cover books to digital is plausible.
There is but one thorn in the flesh of Kabarnet region which is made up of four sublocations; Kewamoi , Seguton, kaprogonya and part of kapropita. Inadequate housing. Housing has always been a problem in Kabarnet as very few people have invested in real estate.
Most civil servants have therefore always been housed by the Municipal Housing. However, on 24th of September this year, after a long, sunny day at work , the civil servants living in the municipal houses were welcomed by a 14 day eviction notice . They were instructed to vacate their houses so as to pave way for the county public officers to occupy. For the residents of this block of about 100 houses most of whom live with their families, the notice Is not only short but also very unrealistic for a growing town with no vibrant real estate .
For the suspicious city dweller with an inclination for public transport and taxis, it will come as quite a not-so-pleasant surprise that on any day, rainy or otherwise, the most preferred means of transport here is lifts from private car owners. Second to this are motorbikes which are found on every street and preferred because of the rough terrain, their speed and flexibility in accessing very remote areas.
Cab drivers therefore have to wait till nightfall for them to get clients.
Like in many other Kenyan towns, the population is growing at a high rate thanks to better medical facilities and immigration by investors interested in tapping into the new center of power for Baringo.
If you ask me, this is unquestionably, the right time for real estate investors in Baringo to make hay while the sun shines. After all, with the recently unpredictable climatic changes, one is never really sure when next the sun will shine.