Marsabit is a town in northern Kenya, located 170 km east of the center of the East African Rift at 37°58' E, 2°19' N (37.97°E, 2.32 N). It is located in the Eastern Province and is almost surrounded by the Marsabit National Park and Reserve. It serves as the capital of Marsabit District, and lies southeast of the Chalbi Desert in a forested area known for its volcanoes and crater lakes and others.
The town of Marsabit is an outpost of urban civilization in the vast desert of northern Kenya. The town is situated on an isolated extinct volcano, Mount Marsabit, which rises almost a kilometer above the desert. The hills here are heavily forested, in contrast to the desert beyond, with their own "insular" eco-system.
In addition, Marsabit has an airstrip and a mountain peak (Mount Marsabit), with "singing" wells just outside the town. Elephants can also often be seen in the local wildlife refuge that surrounds the town, occasionally breaking down fences and causing damage to local farmers crop beds. Originally, Marsabit was popularly known as Sokorte. The current Marsabit was possibly given its name by English explorers who went through the area using otor vehicles. Among the popular inhabitants is Rendille who used to call it Sokorte/ Haali dayan. Treking across the drylands the white explorers could describe to the locals where they were coming from, by pointing fingers to the mountains saying 'Mars a bit" which means high and cool - an extremely obscure old English word. The local residents did pronounce quite good hence 'Marsabit' and it picked up from there. A more likely claim is that the name is from the Amharic word 'Marsa bet' (Meaning Marsa's home/house) is believed to have been named after a farmer named 'Marsa' (ethnically Burji) who was brought to Marsabit from Mega (in Ethiopia) by the Consul to assist in consolidation of farming and permanent settlement on the slopes of Mount Marsabit.
Culture and religion
Besides the aforementioned ethnic groups, there are other people from other parts of Kenya who are there working mostly for the government and business. About 40% of the people living in Marsabit are Christians, 32% Muslims and other 28% believe in traditional religions and others. Mostly, these groups have lived in peace, but starting in 1994 and lasting for almost a year, there were ethnic killings of Gabra by Borana, following a dispute over clan ownership of cattle—which are the main source of income for both groups, in addition to trade in goods and foodstuffs.
Marsabit is the announced location for a conference between Borana and Gabra elders scheduled for 2–6 June 2009. Discussions to resolve existing conflicts between the two groups have been underway for several years now, and agreements are expected to be sealed at the event at this conference in the presence of traditional leaders.
Marsabit is approximately 550 kilometers or two days' drive from Nairobi via the towns of Isiolo and Archers Post. Accessing the town was previously a challenge as you had to either hang on top of the trucks or hike lifts in government vehicles. Currently, there is a bus (Liban) which plies the Isiolo - Marsabit route on a daily basis. It leaves Isiolo for Marsabit at 8pm, arriving between 3 - 5am and leaves Marsabit at 8am arriving in Isiolo between 3 - 7pm. In addition to this, there are two buses which ply the Nairobi - Moyale route, through Marsabit.
The road is very good tarmac all the way to Merille, about 150 km from Isiolo, on your way to Marsabit, then about 120 km of murrum road. This road is characterized by corrugations and bad sections that is only tackled well by a 4 by 4 vehicle, and takes about 4 hours.
There are two airstrips servicing charter aircraft one close to town about 10 minutes Drive towards Moyale (Marsabit Airstrip) and the second about 30 minutes away towards Chalbi. (Segel Airstrip) The Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) flight is the only regular flight to Marsabit on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Marsabit town is a trading and commercial center, with three petrol stations, a bank, post office, shops, restaurants, lodges and even a dry cleaner. The town facilitates the supply and movement of goods and services between Moyale (goods from Ethiopia) and Isiolo (goods from Nairobi). Agriculture also plays a role, as many grow millet and maize to be consumed locally and nomadic people supply beef by selling their cows.
Lake Paradise (which attracts game animals such as elephants and buffalo), and Bongole Crater located in the heart of the forest are both local attractions for tourists. The town and surrounding area are of rich cultural interest to anthropologists and other researchers.
Solar eclipse of November 3, 2013
Marsabit was listed as one of the locations that would experience a total solar eclipse on November 3, 2013. The total solar eclipse would last to a maximum of 1 minute and 39 seconds. About 1,000 tourists flocked Sibiloi national park to get a glimpse of the rare occurrence.
- "Borana and Gabra peace meeting in Dukana", Pastoralists Communication Initiative website (accessed 5 May 2009)
- Chao, Sandra (November 1, 2013). "Numbers rise as tourists flock Marsabit for eclipse Sunday". Daily Nation. Retrieved 3 November 2013.