How many councillors can you fit in a Land Rover?

The answer, it turns out, is twelve. Plus one mzungu, ten Samsonite luggage cases, and an AK-47.

(The AK barrel is just visible next to the driver in this picture)

Two weeks ago I was travelling with another staff member around Baragoi in northern Samburu District, south of Lake Turkana. Baragoi's a slightly odd place. On the one hand it's a typical small town in the arid northern grasslands. There's no electrification, guns and goats everywhere, and all the beers are warm and dusty, having been carried five hours on the roof of the bus (below) from Maralal, the nearest large-ish town (and, incidentally, the final, wind-stripped home of Wilfred Thesiger until his death in 1994). On the other hand, you can buy vodka alongside traditional busaa homebrew in almost all of Baragoi's seven or eight bars, and the main street is colloquially called Bosnia Street.

This is because Baragoi was the recruitment hub for the illiterate Samburu warriors plucked from the vast empty ranges of northern Kenya in the early 1990s, rapidly inducted into the Kenyan army, and sent as barely trained UN peacekeepers to patrol the Republic of Serbian Krajina, a self-proclaimed micro-state in eastern Croatia which existed for just four years before it was pummelled back under Croatian authority in 1995. These men came back, rich; bought cows, built bars and cheap lodging houses; and essentially melted back into Samburu society. Globalisation is strong. And weak.

Anyway, back to the Land Rover. Transport is a bit of a problem in northern Kenya. Amazingly, there's a bus which goes to Baragoi from Maralal. It doesn't go very often, but as you can see it's pretty bitching:

This bus bounces and inches its way over a 'road' which is mostly little more than a rocky track through the mountains. We got to sit in the cab. We listened to Lil' Wayne. It was awesome.

The journey back was a bit more complicated. Some local members of Samburu District Council, though, were on their way to Maralal at lunchtime on the day we wanted to leave, and offered to give us a lift. In theory, awesome. They had a Land Rover, and they were leaving right now, they said. Sasa sasa.

That's to say, after a few hours and a few more Tuskers. By 6pm, the driver had decided to go somewhere else, they said. But this was a good thing, they said: it's better to travel at night when it's cooler and the tyres don't puncture so easily.

(And the raiders like to hijack cars).

But the council chairman wants to sleep, they said. OK, so we leave at dawn. 6am. Sasa sasa. On the dot, they said.

That's to say, at 12 noon the next day. And there were now twelve people who they'd promised could go to Maralal. And they all had fancy, bulky, sharp-cornered Samsonite cases to put on top of us in the back. (They're local politicians. They have nice luggage). So only one of the two of us could go to Maralal, they said

Actually, we both went. We just took it in turns to make human-Samsonite-human sandwiches in the back of the Land Rover. I'm still not totally sure why we brought the Kalashnikov. Still, as I know from Manchester, council politics can be rough...


  1. Lil Wayne?! Aren't you grateful for my office education? Did you seriously listen to Lil Wayne?

  2. Yep, it was definitely Lil Wayne. After my office acclimatisation, I couldn't miss it.

    I also had a photo somewhere of the 'Lil Wayne Kinyozi' (hairdressers) in Elburgon near Nakuru. I'll have to find it.