Isiolo County is located in the northern part of the former Eastern Province, 285 kilometers north of Nairobi.
Covering an area of 25, 336.1 square kilometers, it is expansive when compared to other counties.
The county borders seven other counties: Samburu to the east, Garissa to the east, Tana River to the south east, Kitui and Meru to the south west, Marsabit to the North West and Wajir to the north east.
Isiolo town came about after the First World War.
The Somali ex- army officers who participated in the war settled in Isiolo, intermarrying with the local Samburu and Cushitic pastoralists.
Isiolo County Government
Isiolo County has two Constituencies; Isiolo North and Isiolo South. The following are the wards in Isiolo; Cherrab, Charri, Sericho, Garba tula, Kinna, Ngaremara, Oldonyiro, Wabera, Burat and Bulapesa.
The People of Isiolo County
The population tally in the county according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics report of 2009 is 143,294. 51% of the population is male while 49% is female. Isiolo County is inhabited by the Turkana, Borana, Somali and
Meru communities, with the Boranas forming the largest portion of the population.
Religion and Traditional Culture
Isiolo residents are either Muslims or Christians, with the highest percentage of the population being of the Muslim faith, something that is evident from the many mosques seen as one traverses the county. Most if not all the Somalis and a sizeable number of Boranas are Muslims while the Ameru practice Christianity.
Scarcity of arable land and pasture is a daily challenge for the people of Isiolo, a phenomena that is witnessed from the constant community conflicts that plague the county. The Borana are nomadic pastoralists, moving from one area to another – within the county and in neighboring counties in search of pasture and water for their goats, camels and cows.
Traditionally, men are entrusted with livestock rearing and securing against cattle rustlers, while the women stay home and perform all domestic duties including constructing the houses; mostly out of mud and taking care of the children. Among the Borana, Turkana, and Ameru, the younger boys normally take care of the goats while young men take care of the cows. As cattle raids are expected at any time, the young strong men go around armed, in search of pasture and water for livestock.
Cattle rustling is almost an acceptable tradition of the Turkanas, but one that consequently affects other tribes like the Borana and the Maasai who are then forced to protect their livestock from the cattle raiders.
Isiolo town serves as the county headquarters. The town is cosmopolitan with the Somalis, Boranas, and the Merus forming the largest chunk of the residents. Although the town is comparatively small in size, it is significant for hosting travellers as they commute between the towns of Marsabit and Moyale.
Isiolo airport, the only airport is currently under construction to expand and upgrade it to international standards, thereby enhancing trade with neighboring countries like Somalia and facilitating transport of goods, visitors and tourists who frequent the county. Isiolo town provides easy access to tourists visiting the Meru national park, Shaba, Samburu game reserves as well as Maasai Mara game reserve – all located in neighboring counties.
Climate and Geography
Most parts of Isiolo County are arid and receives less than 150 mm annually. Areas like Garbatulla are totally dry and no agricultural activity takes place.
Kinna region represents the semi-arid area that support pastoralism, but the residents are forced to move to neighboring counties often in search of water and pasture for their livestock especially during the dry season.
Generally, the county receives low rainfall of between 300-500 mm per year, and experiences temperatures ranging from 12°C to 28°C. The common vegetation is shrubs and acacia trees which thrive well in arid areas.
The county’s average altitude is 200-300 meters above the sea level although other areas of the county go up to 1000 meters above sea level. Lorian swamp forms the lowest point of the county. The soil is mostly sandy and saline and has a low water holding capacity, making it difficult to engage in agricultural activities.
The Ameru community in the area practice
agriculture and livestock keeping in small scale and this makes their lifestyle different from the other communities. They mainly grow vegetables like cabbages, tomatoes and carrots that they sell in Isiolo and Nanyuki town. Livestock keeping is practiced widely especially in Kinna and around Lorian Swamp where pasture and water is more available.
The livestock products are consumed within Isiolo town and the rest supplied to major towns like Nairobi. The Kenya Meat Commission is a major buyer of livestock from the farmers. Borana and Turkana women participate in jewelry making, crafting jewelry that they inturn sell to tourists who visit the town.
Past historical injustices and poor infrastructure that have hindered growth and development in this county will soon be a thing of the past as the current goverment works hard to elevate the county by improving education, infrastructure and general standards of living for the people of Isiolo County who live in abject poverty.
Isiolo District hospital is the only district hospital in this county, with 24 small health centers found in different wards of the county. Al Falah, Iqra, Waso Medical services, Isiolo Medical, Isiolo county Nursing home, ACK Isiolo dispensary, Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo MaterCare, Isiolo Catholic Dispensary and Isiolo central medical clinic are private hospitals located in Isiolo town that caters for the health needs of the people of Isiolo.
Although the pastoral communities have been slow in adapting modern lifestyle and embracing education, the county has over 90 primary schools, 11 secondary schools and 1 tertiary institution. Isiolo Boys High school, Isiolo Girls High School and Garbatula are among the top schools.
St. Mary’s Secretarial College is the only tertiary institution. The government, with the assistance of local NGOs have been persistently working over the years to increase enrollment in learning institutions and ensure that children in Isiolo get quality education, are shielded from early marriages and retrogressive cultural practices that have in the past prevented them from pursuing formal education.
Tourism and Places of Interest
The county has five conservation areas with many animal species, which attract both local and international tourists. Tourist attraction sites include: Lewa Downs , Buffalo Springs ,Shaba , and Bisanadi game reserves.
Isiolo is best known for its abundant wildlife and spectacular landscapes. From the big five to the Maasai Ostriches, Isiolo has it all. The best places to see these animals is Buffalo Springs and the famous Shaba national reserve. These places are teaming with wildlife and offer visitors opportunity to see nature at its best as all animals struggle to survive in their natural habitat.
Travelling to Isiolo County
The county is accessible both by road and air, with the Isiolo airport taking care of most if not all air transport requirements. There are scheduled flights to different game reserves like the Lewa and Buffalo Springs. Isiolo Town is close to 300 kms from Nairobi and is accessible by road using the A2 road from Nairobi through Nanyuki to Isiolo. The road is in good condition and the journey from Nairobi to Isiolo takes roughly 3.5hrs to 4hrs.
The county has several good hotels and lodges which offer affordable accommodation. Some of the hotels are Hills restaurant and Shaba Game Lodge. Other low budget hotels located in the heart of Isiolo town include Bomen Hotel, Moti Pearl Hotel and Mocharo lodge. These hotels are relatively cheap and the daily rates are inclusive of breakfast.
Isiolo town is a business town with six commercial banks and one micro-finance institution that serve its people. These include Barclays Bank, Consolidated Bank Kenya, Kenya Commercial Bank, Post Bank, K-rep Bank and Equity Bank.
There are many small shops found within Isiolo town and its environs. The Maendeleo shopping mall located in Isiolo town has many shops selling different items, from laptops to clothes at competitive prices. There is also a miraa market next to BP petrol station Isiolo. Small roadside shops selling carvings and jewelry are found along the Nanyuki Isiolo road and towards the game reserves.