Tourism is major foreign exchange earner for Kenya. Foreigners throng the country to sample the various wildlife species found in the game reserves and national parks besides enjoying available waterfalls and the hot humid sea beaches along the coast.
Several features have been declared UNESCO world heritage sites. These include Fort Jesus Museum in Mombasa. Lamu Old Town, the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forest, Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley, Lake Turkana National Parks, Thimlich Ohinga Cultural Landscape and the Mount Kenya National Park.
Although these World Heritage Sites do not cut across all counties each county has unique features many of which are unexploited and can be marketed to attract tourists. Suffice to state that tourism is a devolved function and counties which have embraced it are reaping big.
Tharaka Nithi County is endowed with all it takes to be a preferred destination for both domestic and foreign tourists.
Mount Kenya is a world heritage site. It’s the only snowcapped mountain in the entire globe which lies along the equator and Chogoria route in Tharaka-Nithi was once the preferred route for hikers. Apart from hiking, this route offers a unique opportunity to enjoy the magical sceneries alongside the flora and fauna.
Still within Mount Kenya forest is the famous elephant maternity at Gaketha. This gives nature lovers a very rare opportunity to witness this spectacle. It also offers researchers an opportunity to study elephant behaviour.
Meru National Park can also be exploited to generate handsome income for Tharaka-Nithi County. Despite some border disagreements between the county and Meru, it’s still possible to develop Ura gate as an alternative route to the park. The first county government made all the necessary efforts to develop this route. However we are yet to see a single tourist vehicle heading in that direction. Ura gate like other gates such as Sekenan or Talek in Maara sub-county should be bubbling with activity.
Cultural tourism is yet another front which is equally unexplored. Chuka drummers are known world over. Tharaka unique culture remains largely undiluted. Unfortunately, activities like the Tharaka cultural festival are dying a slow death if no action is taken soon. A proposal to put up a cultural centre at Igaironi still remains a pipe dream.
Other attractions include the tallest tree in Africa (Mutunguru), Kibuka falls, Inanduru, Kandakame not forgetting the possibility of water rafting along the numerous rivers. Some counties like Samburu have popularized the annual Camel Derby which is now an international event.
Most people would expect the tallest tree in Africa to be found in the equatorial rain forests. However, this might not be the case according to the locals from Mutunguruni village in the Njaina area of Karingani location a few kilometres from Chuka University. Here lies the ‘Mutunguru,” tree that is 84 metres tall believed to be over 200 years old. In the highest layer of tropical rain forests known as the emergent layer the very large trees called emergent trees reach the heights of 45–55 metres, although on occasion a few species will grow to 70–80 metres tall.
The owner of the land on which the Mutunguru lies 76 year old Saberio Mbuba regularly weeds around its trunk and welcomes visitors who travel from far and wide to view the tree which can be seen from as far as 40 kilometres away.
Mzee Mbuba says the tree is a great tourist attraction which if well protected and the area around it conserved and properly landscaped, could form a significant tourist spot. He now calls on the Tharaka Nithi County government to chip in and ring fence it to make it a better tourist attraction.
In December 2018 the Tharaka-Nithi County government promised to take stock of its communities’ traditional knowledge and artifacts with the intention of patenting their rights to prevent other communities and countries from snatching them for commercial purposes.
Tharaka-Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki said there are many traditional dances, instruments and other artifacts in the county that cannot be found anywhere else in the world which should be identified and patented for commercial purposes.
“We don’t want to wait until all our traditional knowledge and artifacts are copied by other countries as it happened with our traditional kiondo brand that was patented by Japan,” said Njuki in Mukothima ward in Tharaka constituency in December adding that the international commercial interests have caught Kenya policy-makers off guard, exposing the country to huge losses of its traditional wealth.
He said his government would empower the traditional groups so that they can also be earning a living from the entertainments especially those near Meru and Mount Kenya national parks gates which are major tourist destinations.
Counties are promoting agro-tourism as a new product. Fortunately Tharaka-Nithi county that stretches all the way from the tip of Mount Kenya in the west to the Meru National park in the North-Eastern side boasts of a wide variety of agricultural activities with crops like tea, coffee, tobacco, fruits, and cereals.
Dairy farming dominates the western side while pastoralism is practised on the drier eastern part. This therefore gives guests a variety of activities to sample all within the same county.
Despite all these attractions, the county government is yet to do or be seen doing much to harness the potential. Tharaka-Nithi is yet to see other counties bring in activities into the county or tourists sampling its unique features.
To add insult to injury, the county government is in the habit of holding seminars and workshops outside the county and even Tharaka-Nithi people prefer to go to other counties over the weekends to refresh yet there are good hotels that are underutilized in Chuka town.
By David Mutwiri