As findings from the shores of Lake Turkana prove, the region has been inhabited since the dawn of the very first humans. In the past few centuries, the land has been roamed by various pastoralist peoples who constantly competed for pasture, water and animals.
In 1886, the first Europeans to travel through Samburu County, on their way to Lake Turkana, were the Hungarian Count Samuel Teleki and his Austrian companion Ludwig von Höhnel who gave the biggest permanent desert lake the name ‘Lake Rudolf’ (after Prince Rudolf, then archduke of the Austria-Hungary Empire). The name stuck until the 1970s, when it was officially renamed Lake Turkana. The next Europeans to follow Teleki and von Höhnel were big game hunters who set camp at the animal-rich banks of the Ewaso Nyiro.
Much of the dry vast north has always lagged behind in terms of development, one of the carryover legacies of British administration which shut off the region. When it was still part of the Northern Frontier District in colonial Kenya, Samburu Land could only be accessed after securing a special permit, and its remoteness was the reason Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was detained in Maralal as the British administration and Kenyan nationalists negotiated the terms of independence.
Now that Samburu is one of the 47 semi-autonomous counties, the local control over many affairs within the region will unleash the huge economic potential of the region, most obvious with a great future in tourism, among other sectors of the economy. A new tarmac highway being built from Isiolo to Ethiopia is likely to usher in a period of greater accessibility and security, and Samburu, like all the other counties in northern Kenya, will benefit mightily from this.