Ethiopia to Kenya: Marsabit Highway Warning
A warning for those who intend to cross from Ethiopia to Kenya through Moyale - Marsabit - Isiolo...
We went through that road 6 weeks ago. One or two days later, an attack occured on a police station, the road was closed and all traffic was diverted to Wajir. The problem is that the Wajir road is much longer and, according to travellers, has quite a bit of sand.
The Kenyan police chief in Moyale doesn't say the truth about the current situation. You'd better ask people in town or even low-level customs guards. Someone recommended us not to drive in front of all other vehicules when leaving in the morning because some bombs have been planted on the road in the past (2 or 3 attacks last June and July).
Another sad story about that road was told to us by the gendarme at the French embassy in Nairobi. Last year, 2 bikers who had met in Kenya - one French, the other Dutch - took that road without escort. The French guy was found dead (althrough the autopsy did not show any evidence of foul play) and the Dutch guy disappeared without trace.
If we had known this, we would have ridden much closer to our escort...
Sorry for the bad news,
Pierre - http://photobiker.com
We had a similar story last year when we went there. Most of the traveller talk before suggested it was the police trying to talk up the situation to justify their numbers in running convoys. We went down from Moyale to Masabit on the first day without a convoy. Spent then night in Masabit but then police wouldn't let us out of town without the convoy. Went and spoke to the police chief - actually gave the town commissioner an earful before he pointed out he wasn't the police chief. Chief was a nice guy, only the second day in the job. In the end we compromised and followed a police landrover out. They had about 11 police on board and they went off somewhere else after about an hour gesturing for us to stay on the road. Our rear shocks went and we crawled down to Nanyuki at 10kms an hour without major incident. Then found out that two days before, a dutch bedford 4 tonne truck with four people on board was stopped by 15 gun men with AK47s, they shot in the air, forced the driver out on to the ground and put a gun to the back of his head but then refused a video camera and other electrical gear and ended up taking about £40 in cash. Met with British troops stationed down there who had been shot at - not good for travellers if the locals are prepared to shoot at soldiers in uniform in Army landrovers with rifles - presumably they don't know they only have blanks. Loads of travellers coming through however. Aparently the bandits are mainly interested in trucks because the drivers carry the money from the goods they sell. Not so interested in 4x4s and not interested in motorbikes.
[This message has been edited by Toby2 (edited 13 September 2003).]
I'm intending using that road to Nanyuki in December. Do you reckon it's safe WITH an escort. How much does this cost? My own experience with bandits in Africa is that they seem to occur at tribal (rather than national) boundaries and it's totally hit and miss whether you encounter them. Fortunately I never have, though my wife was ambushed at gunpoint in a Matatu and foolishly concealed her engagement and wedding rings in her mouth...not a good idea. Two people were shot dead but she was dismissed unharmed. She was also mugged collecting money from Western Union and robbed. Both incidents in Nairobi during the Moi era. Things are getting a lot better in nairobi now but there are still hi - jacks. It used to be the same in Mareilles when walking down to En Vau to climb! Plus ca change
Interesting topic (especially seeing as I'll be doing this early next year!) - I never imagined that by the time I got to ethiopia/kenya there would be too many potential hazards - it's really close to forever unstable somalia i guess - I'm sure a lot of the trouble in this region is as a direct result of the insecurity there....
I have two qu's:
1/ I've heard about the military escort - as with freerockspirit, does anyone know how much it costs and also does the convoy go from the ethiopian side at Moyale into Kenya?
2/ I've heard about another route into Kenya from ethiopia via Lake Turkana (crossing at Banya Fort - approx 300km west of Moyale)...has anyone gone this way - I've heard that while it's a much safer route, there are no offcial border posts on it - It would essentially mean turning up in Nairobi without a stamp and with a lot of explaning to do! Can anyone verify this?
We crossed with an overlander truck that hired 2 policemen - and their kalachnikovs - for a total of $75. We figured it would cover their expenses (meals, hotel, transportation) to find their way back to Moyale. The cops there are quite willing to take the trip (often, they have to go anyway to visit their families) but it is not easy for them to arrange the trip back to Moyale.
First of all, the police chief in Moyale (kenya side) doesn't know what he's talking about. Don't trust him.
We drove into Kenya from Ethiopia last january and after talking to the police chief on the Kenyian side took an alternative route. The convoy starts early in the morning on the Kenya side, and thus, if you want to take the convoy, it's best to cross the border the afternoon before. Incase you get held up with customs etc.
We got the impression that the route we took alone; Moyale, Wajir, Mado Gashi, Isiolo, was not uncommon. This is east of the convoy route, more towards Somalia. We began to wonder a bit when the officers at the many check points seemed so suprised to see us... In Mado Gashi, we were told at the police station that they hadn't seen white people there since the officers began their tour of "the operational area". About 3 years before. We asked if we could sleep in the compound and they advised us that it would be best for us, as there was a little "religious tention" in the area. When the district police chief later arrived, the fun really began. He was drunk as a skunk and immediatly ordered us arrested, as potential terrorists! Basically because he was suspicious that we came down this "backway route". In his drunken state, he thought we were trying to sneak into Kenya to pull off a new Mombasa bombing...
All our documents (maps, passports, car papers etc.) were confiscated and 4 men were ordered to guard us with their battle rifles!
The car was driven a bit away from the buildings (incase a bomb went off in it...) and we then spent a couple of hours convincing the police chief that we were tourists from Norway, and not Al Qaida terrorists!
This wasn't a money/bribe issue. It was a genuinally serious matter to the guy. Eventually we conviced him of who we were, and he then ordered his men to change around and guard us throughout the night against the local population. According to him, they were not too fond of non-muslims, and there had been a lot of religious violance recently.
After a sweaty night in our tent, we were given 2 officers with guns, grenades and the works to escort us to the farside (west side) of mount Kenya. For free! It took a days drive and that was the end of our journey through the Operational Area. The officers told us about some recent bandit battles, and we could see on their faces that they didn't feel quite secure driving around there. It was obvious that the stories weren't just to scare us.
What was a little scary was that the police chiefs men blindly followed his orders even though he was totaly drunk!
There are some benefits of driving this route; the tracks are sand (and a bit of mud when we were there) instead of the sharp rocks on the convoy route which will rip up your tyres. For motorcycles though, I'd say that the sandy ruts we had were quite bad. Often with dense bush on the sides, so you'd be forced to stick to the ruts...
If there are any bandits roaming around this alternative route, they definatly won't expect you to come along, unlike on the convoy route where "everyone" drives.
The downside is that the bandits here supposedly shoot at your vehicle to stop you... Unlike on the convoy route where you are "held up".
Another thing we've heard down there is that when people get a flat tyre etc. with the convoy, it just continues and leaves the stricken car/bike behind! Some convoy!
Obviously there are upsides and downsides to both ways.
If making a choice, I'd go the same way over again!
[This message has been edited by Erik D. (edited 22 September 2003).]
I think it's a personal decision wether to take this road or not.
At the end of the day you need to weigh up the risks and decide wether you personally are prepared to ride it or not.
I motorbike this road in late May and although there was a risk of bandits at the time, had no problems.
I know of a German couple who took the Wajir route 2 weeks before and had no probs either.
But saying that, I didn't expect any trouble in the Omo valley and had to run an ambush.
While in the Omo valley I was told by a German prospector that Banja Fort now has a customs post,
but don't underestimate this area, it is very isolated and you need to be 100% self-reliant.
There is a convoy going down I think every day. Its free but it goes early. It also offers minimum protection as some vehicles dissappear off in to the distance whilst the slow old trucks drive miles and miles behind. There is also scope to have police on / in your vehicles, however this could be counter production. There was an argument raised that if rebels were encountered who didn't engage, the police might still engage leading to a shoot out rather than just a hold up and robbing or nothing at all. Just a perspective. Dutch truck that got robbed was stopped by a gang of 15 armed with AK47s, would one policeman have been able to stop this? hard to tell I guess as to whether it would be sufficient to put them off?
We drove the route via Omo Valley / Lake Turkana in January. From Ethiopia you drive towards the Omo Valley and then illegally cross the border into Kenya (there definitely was no customs office on the Ethiopian side). This route is actually described in "Durch Afrika" by Daerr. The description is crap though and we got caught by the Ehiopian police. A lot a shouting and a USD 100 bribe, 20 km before the border.
Anyway, safely made it into Kenya. We ran into a missionaries' house just across the border and they drew us a map to Nairobi which was another three days driving.
You more or less follow the eastern shore of the Turkana Lake through Sibiloi NP and eventually end up in Loyangalani where you have the first fuel stop after approx. 600 km.
We got our visa in Nairobi without any trouble at all. The advantage of this route is that basically there is NO traffic for three days. The place is indeed extremely isolated. In case of a breakdown this can be a bit tricky of course. We passed one truck full of heavily armed guys in military suits standing by the side of the road and that was it. Make sure you carry enough water because it's HOT. The driving was not really difficult but perhaps can be if it's been raining because of river crossings with steep banks. It is an extremely beautiful route and scenically it was one of the highlights of our whole trip.
[This message has been edited by camiel (edited 27 September 2003).]
I published a warning in the Advisories forum about recent shootings in the area. 76 persons were killed:
Pierre (& Merritt too)
I went along this road the day of the attack. A bit tense to say the least. My bike was too slow for armed convoy so they just sent me on anyway. Lots of armed villagers wandering about in groups, and the two main villages had self-imposed road blocks.
News reports today say that the army/police are now there in number, with armoured fighting vehicles. You take your chances. But route information from the locals in Moyale was inaccurate.
There were 70 plus people killed, 200 plus injured, 70k's NW of Marsabit yesterday. 6am raid by supposed "shifta". Mainly women and school-children, pangas spears and AKs.
Check the Kenyan News sources for full info.
Things as we all know change very fast in Africa so all this info could be useless soon, but non the less: I took the turkana route in July 2004 and found it to be extreme in every way, the highlight of my trip and also some of the most hair raising moments. Riding is often slow and getting caught at night on the road near Loyangalosi (spell?) meant lots of falling. There is petrol at Loyangalosi from mission priests but only if they have enough to spare. When i rode there was no Immig or customs at Illoret (Fort Banya on Mich map, but everyone in area knows it as illoret). There IS however Immigrattion on Ethiop side at Omorate, when i was there it was functional and they were building an new office. No Customs though, youll be told to go to customs in Addis. Dont bother, its madness, i spent 5 days there trying and gave up. Crossed into Sudan by riding straight past Ethiop customs. I met a guy who came from N to S via this route and he went to Kenya embassy in Addis to explain problem of no Immig in Illoret and they gave him letter which smoothed his way to Nairobi.
Moyale route ive not tried but its always been a bit dodgy... remember that trucks do pass every day and attacks are uncommon on travellers... could get hit by a bus in London, you get my drift?
Has anyone done this route or heard of someone else. I am trying to get some GPS points as we plan to do this next year in september or so.
From a previous traveller's diary Stuart Williams was one of 3 post-graduate researchers travelling back to Ethiopia from Northern Kenya that they were researching the Ethopian Wolf and basically showed him the way through. Adrian and Catherine followed him and did their trip in 2002. They hit the Moyale road 70kms from Moyale and their pics of the area looked great.
Unfortunately their email address is no longer active.
I am trying to find information on the route in Northern Kenya from Moyale through the Huri Hills to Kalacha.
I have tried to contact Stuart through a co-worker and am waiting to hear from him, hoping he is reachable and responds. He is still in Ethopia.
If I find out more information I will post it on the forum if there is interest in this.
Also when we do it will make a track of it.
Has anyone been on the road up to Lodwar from southern Kenya? I was wondering what its like re: safefty, bandits etc?
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