By IKENNA EMEWU
Some 35 million years ago, according to science, a natural force too potent and swift squelched through a stretch of 9,600km, defiant of any continental, national border, seas and mountains barriers and brutally lacerated the face of the earth.
The mega force left its imprints from Lebanon in Asia through the Dead Sea in Israel to the Red Sea, into the shores of Egypt and stepped on the African soil.
Getting into the ancient continent wasn’t the issue, but the audacity of the force to traverse the East Africa stretch through Somalia, Ethiopia, the south west tip of Eritreat into Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and through Mozambique to set foot on the Indian Ocean shores or beyond into the ocean floor.
If in reverse direction, then this awesome force would have set off from the Mozambique shores and majestically found its way through Africa into Asia terminating in Lebanon at the Beqaa Valley after crossing the Red Sea and the Dead Sea in Israel.
At some point, the force forked into three arms, retaining the fury that propelled it and left three scars on the face of the earth.
Somewhere in Kenya close to the city of Eldoret to the north of the Equator, an arm forked out to the west, almost encircling the large Lake Victoria. The scar stopped somewhere close to linking up with the major fault line towards the north east, almost totally enclosing the lake and a tinier one to the north, Lake Kyoga in its cusp.
Most peculiar landscape
In Africa, it’s famously called the Great Rift Valley (GRV).
As the force pushed through with volcanic fervent, spitting fire all along, bulldozing off quadrillions of tons of earth, it left a large laceration on the face of the earth. It is the longest, largest scar on earth and so huge to be visible from space, according to spacegoers and satellite images of the earth.
The earth it moved from its tracks piled up by the sides creating tens of mountains, lakes and many more features along its trail.
The mountains from the earth heaped by this force include Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa located in Tanzania, Mount Kenya in Kenya Rwenzori (Uganda), Virunga, Kansumba, the Ethiopian Highlands and the least, Longonot Mountain in the Nakuru County of Kenya.
Taking a datum elaboration from Google images, the second and shorter arm of the rift has Lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu, Tanganyika, the largest here and smaller Lake Rukwa in its bossom. Farther away to the west of this arm is Lake Mweru.
At the point the two arms converge is just at the northern tip of Lake Malawi, the largest of all the about 18 lakes that dot this great landmark, the higher elevation of Africa. If the arms of the GRV were rivers, the northern tip of Lake Malawi would have been the confluence. Maybe the aggregation of the forces that worked the wonders here extenuated their impact to fashion Lake Malawi as the largest.
Also, Lake Victoria, the widest of the lakes that took us about 15 minutes to overfly at cruise velocity on the Nairobi-Lagos flight route aboard the Kenya Airways liner just ended its north reach on the Equator, Latitude 0°, the midway of the earth between the North and South poles
In between these jutting spurs that line the GRV within which water bodies are locked in in isolated patches and commonly called the Great Lakes (Maziwa Makuu in Swahili) include Lakes Malawi, Victoria, Ngorongoro, Virunga, Tanganyika, Turkana and many more smaller ones visible from the escarpment tour point of the Nairobi-Kisumu-Uganda and Rwanda border highways to the west.
At this point, to the north west, the Longonot ridge forms a long arc up in the skyline standing in majesty. The volcanic mountain represents part of the pride of Kenya ecotourism.
That afternoon as ACMC visited, the story of the Valley by natives still inspires awe. But not many in Nakuru or even Nairobi know the fame of the GRV or its importance to African history. Many of them don’t even know it is a major landmark the world knows. To them, it’s just a depression at the back of their houses or in their farmsteads. But the Kenyan tourism knows better just like the tour operators who reap income from tourists that throng the site to catch fun and have a feel of the awe the GRV holds.
The fading shadows of the mega force that must have come repeatedly for millions of years threw volcanic ash over the faunal and floral inhabitants of the environment and froze the skeletal remains its fire gutted members.
According to geology, some 100 years ago, its momentary belch of fire still lingered.
Over time, the constipations from the bowel of the magma-laden interiors and mantle of the earth crust preserved the oldest hominid fossil remains and the eco antiquities that gave Africa a stamp of the bragging rights of the cradle of humanity.
In April 2018, a viral video by www.forbes.com showing a fresh tearing apart of the continental crust of the Kenyan Narok and Suswa County crater went global. It was 50ft deep and 60ft wide and the natives watched as the crater kept widening. That was palpable sign that the forces that created that long canyon, massifs and other features still churn with anger within and just obliged us some truce pending another geological onslaught that may rewrite human history and geography at that flank.
Scientists summarize that the GRV is the parting and centrifugal tear of the Nubian and Somalia tectonic plates that make up the African continental formation, and with time would pull apart and aside the East Africa block from the rest of the continent.
Olduvai Gorge, cradle of human race
Along the stretch of this peculiar landmass is the Olduvai Gorge at the Tanzania end where the oldest fossil remains of man like the Homo Habilis dating some 1.9m years old, the Australopithecines of 1.8m years, Homo Erectus as long as 1.2m years ago and of course the youngest – the Homo Sapiens of 300,000 years ago are found.
With this sequence, no doubt, the GRV has been a steady ring of fire for millions of endless years, reason it created the stratigraphy of ages of human remains from millions of years ago to later ages of just less than half a million years.
With a visit to Kenya, the lure was relentless to see the GRV and the legendary archaeological treasure trove that leaves the science world with endless longing that more mysteries would still be lying idle and locked within the vault of the Valley for more advancement of human history.
We set out
We set off from downtown Nairobi that eventful Thursday afternoon, November 7 nudged by adventure and the charm of journalism to see Kenya and what would unfold for a reporter.
With the lead tour guide, Jane Mwangi, Eric, the driver and graduate of geography who enthused that the GRV is still in progressive tension and separation of few centimeters per year and of course, Hadassah Wairumu, all Kenyans, we hit the road to see Kenya. Hadassah, Kikuyu woman, resident in Washington DC with his family had visited Kenya as part of her pro-Africa women and now, men assignment on the aegis of her NGO Crown Africa Rising.
That fateful morning, we met by chance at the breakfast hall of the Laico Regency Hotel, Nairobi at the hub of the city and formed an instant bond of pro-Africa thinkers.
Kenya beyond Nairobi bustle
Through the Wayaki Highway that passes through elitist Westland District of upscale Nairobi, we flowed with the hectic traffic out of town towards Kangemi, Kabete into Kiambu, one of the 47 counties that make up the 47m population country. After Kiambu, we hit the Kikuyu land, which my tour team quickly likened to the Igbo of Nigeria because of their drive, zest, penchant for advancement and urge to hug the world. At the Kenya Forestry Institute (KEFRI) in the Kiambu County, the tour guide announced that we were actually on the Nairobi-Uganda-Rwanda highway that leads up towards Congo and beyond East Africa, and had some eight hours journey on good traffic to the Ugandan border.
We actually got into the KEFRI precinct by happenstance in an effort to scuttle the long and heavy traffic build-up we spotted ahead of us on the highway. In order to save time and get to our destination, we veered off to the left into the KEFRI, passing through a thicket of forests of various species of trees and institutions where various signage indicated exchange and collaborative projects between KEFRI and the Korea Programme on International Agriculture (KOPIA). The beautiful sites looked lovely as the serene scene became additional fun to the outing driving through the most hidden parts of the Kikuyu land and taking shots at every stop.
Road to Nakuru
The busy way so scary with the fleets of trucks on the windy bends lead through Nakuru, Muhoroni, Eldoret and finally ending in Kisumu where it peters out into Uganda. At the Nairobi city center where the road starts, a sign indicates that Kisumu is some 385km away from the capital city.
Looking up the hill from the GRV roadside tour site, a long queue of trucks crawled up the snaky road, round the edge of the GRV like on a conveyor belt.
By this road after a cocktail of bends and snaky curls up and down sharp hills is the awesome GRV to the left heading towards the Ugandan border. It elicits dizziness looking down that vast deep covered with a lush green canopy of tick foliage. At our arrival, the sun had started making its journey home towards the far left end and west of the valley.
Just before us, two large buses loaded full with tourists had just disgorged the occupants who jumped down in excitement screaming and getting into frenzy taking photos and hugging each other like celebrating a feat getting to the edge of this world’s most important historic sight.
0Signposts herald the site – The Great Rift Valley, From Mozambique to the Red Sea, 9,600km, a signage branded by Coca Cola. Next to it is the Milano Curio Shop, the most stocked artwork shop one can ever imagine. The art stock is rich as the history of the GRV itself and attended by a retinue of vendors that operate a commendable tour business here.
Opposite side of the road is a long and high wall of escarpment showing the ingenuity that created that international highway by dutifully chipping off and tearing away the heaps of earth piled by the ancient volcanic ash to provide this all important passage that stands at the centre of the international economy of East Africa.
At a point, the road leads through a link to the port city of Mombasa, the commercial capital of Kenya, a port city the colonial masters build slave fortes many years ago. Mombasa, Pate, Lamu and some other coastal cities were the hotbed of slave trade atrocities on Africa by the whites.
A native’s nostalgia
The joy was almost lost when the search for the road that would take us back to the main road we left from started proving difficult. At a point, Jayne, the lead tour guide and Eric, the vehicle driver seemed to disobey the GPS and lead the way instead. While we admired the beans and corn fields, we stopped some number of times to reorder our bearing. Each stop ended with an expression of appreciation of thengio muno, a compliment in Kikuyu that means ‘thank you so much.’ After each thengio muno, we seemed to get it wrong again and still asked again and again. Because my tour partners were all Kikuyu, communication was not an issue. Thengio is the Kikuyu corruption of the word ‘Thank you’. So Jayne, Hadassah and Eric used it so frequently to appreciate our guides to an extent the Nigerian visitor also took it in.
After some wandering, we asked a farm produce pick-up driver that redirected us back eventually this time no longer relying on the GPS that had lost touch as we were out of internet access. The man to attend to us, a motorbike rider had to move ahead of us while we trailed till he brought us to the highway at a place called Thigio. Our appreciation of his assistance was beyond the verbal thengio muno as Jayne parted with some cash benefits to the grateful native.
There at Thigio, Hadassah got good nostalgia of her childhood days in the village she said was her grandmother’s native place. She did a fast recall of her experiences carrying heavy loads around there, fetching firewood and walking distances at the instance of grandma to visit relations in neighboring towns and villages, including Thogoto, the nearest of the towns in the Nairobi cornubation axis.
The woman who has lived the rest of her life in upscale parts of cities of Nairobi, Lusaka and later Washington DC with her family told wonderful stories of suffering in those places growing up in rural areas that weren’t as developed. Hadassah actually visited her grandma in Thigio from Nairobi where her immediate family lived, and those visits, which she would not have resisted given her age gave her unsavoury experiences as she detested carrying loads on her head and walking long distances in her little pace and energy. She recalled how she would cry her heart out in protest that she wanted to go back to her parents in Nairobi at every visit after bearing loads on her shoulder that left her with furrowed parts of the skin, some weal left by the pressure of the load on her tender skin.
But going through the tale, she felt happy for those days of such grooming which though painful then later prepared and toughened her up for today. No matter the bitterness then, she felt like those days of close knit family love would be played back. She longed to see her grandma again in Thigio and repeating the visits to family members.
Working her two hands in the air like in see-saw, she demonstrated how grandma and other older members of the family briskly and dutifully extracted fresh and raw milk from the udder of the family cows as part of their breakfast. The freshly harvested milk was boiled over fire fed by dry faggots, which she formed her mouth in a shape to show how they blew the smouldering fire into flames to boil the milk that had tea leaves got from the homestead added to it to make the breakfast.
Getting to the town square of Thigio, she spotted out the ‘Mboroti’. According to her, the road used to end there. But she saw it has extended further to Ndeya, Limuru and Nderu linking Nakuru on the highway down to the border city of Kisumu heading west or to the left side from Thigio. She was particularly thrilled by the advancement of the area which she said she smelled the scent of the days of her childhood in the air and concluded the error of missing our way was particularly to her benefit to catch up with good feelings of past times. Mboroti, the then town square and end of the route is today, a more elaborate place. The word actually means Plot’, tweaked into this form by natives alien to the English language, and that is a space of land mapped out for the special use where few little shops existed. Even back to Nairobi through the windy roads of Thogoto, the native place of Hadassah’s mother, she kept exclaiming in happiness and repeating the word ‘Mboroti’, as a nice place of yore that has taken a more urbane look today.
To the inquisitive reporter from Nigeria, starry-eyed in a place he had never been to, every effort to take that tour and back to the sky scrappers’ neighborhood of the Laico Regency Hotel in downtown Nairobi was like the best outing in a lifetime.