Rift Valley

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Rift Valley

***** Location: Kenya and neighbouring countries
***** Season: Topic
***** Category: Earth


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For most Nairobians, the Rift Valley is where you pass when you take the Trans African Highway from Nairobi westwards, if you wish to visit the town of Naivasha or the city of Nakuru or any other towns and cities beyond -- including those in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo.

The Rift Valley is huge -- the two walls forming either side of the rift, are very far apart. In between lies a fertile plain, filled with volcanoes, lakes and famous national parks. The lakes are especially famous for birds, including millions of flamingoes. Much of the Kenyan dairy industry lies here. The flower growers of Lake Naivasha export roses all over the world. The ascent on the other side provides land for wheat growing, followed by the large expanse of tea plantations around Kericho. Because of the depth of the rift, geo-thermal energy is also tapped and fed into the national grid.

The road which most travellers now take into the Rift, is a new one, built post-independence during the Kenyatta era, and provides spectacular views, including a glimpse into the inside of the extinct volcano Mount Longonot. The older road is even more picturesque, as it winds its way down serpentine bends into the valley -- both roads rejoin in Naivasha.

The city of Nakuru, which has been famous for its 7-km long jacaranda avenue, planted pre- and post-independence, has recently lost most of this treasure, cut down by the contractors commissioned to widen the road. The mayor of Nakuru is furious, and there has been a public outcry -- it is hoped that the jacaranda will be replanted and that, 40 years hence, their beauty may be restored.

Historically, the Rift Valley has been the scene of many land disputes, continuing occasionally today with so-called “tribal clashes”, often involving Kalenjin and Kikuyus, sometimes also Maasai.

The haiku below were written by Nairobians travelling into the Rift, either to visit one of the parks, or to stay with family up-country.

Text © Isabelle Prondzynski


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View from Mount Longonot, with the Rift Valley in the background

© PHOTO www.tamasha-afrika.com/Kenya



The Kenyan Rift Valley is a section of 6 000 km rift system which stretches from the Dead Sea in the Middle East, south through the Red Sea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique.

Major geological upheavals caused a series of lakes in Kenya, some of which (Turkana, Naivasha and Baringo) are freshwater, but the others are soda lakes, with a high saline content. These are rich in algae and tiny crustaceans, which are the main food sources for the millions of flamingos gracing the lakes.

The upheavals also resulted in the sprouting of volcanic mountains, including Longonot and Mt Kenya. The scenery in the Rift Valley is breathtaking and the approach, via road or rail, from Nairobi will take you up gently through the highlands and bring you suddenly to the edge of the Rift valley, which drops away to a ribbon of green in the valley floor below.


Great Rift Valley -- from Wikipedia

The Great Rift Valley is a vast geographical and geological feature, approximately 6,000 kilometres (3,700 mi) in length, which runs from northern Syria in Southwest Asia to central Mozambique in East Africa. Caused by the geological process of rifting, it is a complex feature where several plates of the earth's crust join. The rift valley varies in width from thirty to one hundred kilometers, and in depth from a few hundred to several thousand meters.

The great rift system extends from Lebanon in the north to Mozambique in the south.

The Western Rift, also called the Albertine Rift, is edged by some of the highest mountains in Africa, including the Virunga Mountains, Mitumba Mountains, and Ruwenzori Range. It contains the Rift Valley lakes, which include some of the deepest lakes in the world (up to 1,470 meters deep at Lake Tanganyika). Lake Victoria, the second largest area freshwater lake in the world, is considered part of the Rift Valley system although it actually lies between the two branches. All of the African Great Lakes were formed as the result of the rift, and most lie within its rift valley.

In Kenya the valley is deepest to the north of Nairobi. As the lakes in the Eastern Rift have no outlet to the sea, these lakes tend to be shallow and have a high mineral content as the evaporation of water leaves the salts behind. For example, Lake Magadi has high concentrations of soda (sodium carbonate) and Lake Elmenteita, Lake Baringo, Lake Bogoria, and Lake Nakuru are all strongly alkaline, while Lake Naivasha needs to be supplied by freshwater springs to support its biological variety.

The volcanic activity at this site and unusual concentration of hotspots has produced the volcanic mountains Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Mount Karisimbi, Mount Nyiragongo, Mount Meru and Mount Elgon as well as the Crater Highlands in Tanzania. The Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano remains active, and is currently the only natrocarbonatite volcano in the world.

The Rift Valley has been a rich source of fossils that allow study of human evolution, especially in an area known as Piedmont. Because the rapidly eroding highlands have filled the valley with sediments, a favorable environment for the preservation of remains has been created. The bones of several hominid ancestors of modern humans have been found there, including those of "Lucy", a nearly complete australopithecine skeleton, which was discovered by anthropologist Donald Johanson. Richard and Mary Leakey have also done significant work in this region.

More in the WIKIPEDIA !


Flamingoes on Lake Bogoria
© PHOTO www.tamasha-afrika.com/Kenya

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

Rift Valley Fever is thus called because it was first identified in the Rift Valley of Kenya. Meanwhile, it has been found in other areas of Africa.

More here :
Rift Valley Fever, a haiku topic


into the Rift --
our struggling bus
gathers speed

Naivasha --
surrounded by Naivasha thorns
in bloom

Rift Valley railway --
a single rail runs
through the bush

here and there
white clouds drift over
the vast Rift

from here
to the distant horizon
bush and hamlets

into the bush --
here and there a track
goes somewhere

Elmentaita --
the pink of flamingoes
drifts in stripes

a veil of rain
drifts over the Rift Valley --
August afternoon

~ Isabelle Prondzynski


pine needles
whistling in the cool breeze --
Rift Valley highlands

sightseers winding
up their evening picnic --
grey sunset

misty green blue hills --
the bus struggles up the winding
tarmac road

the winding road
between pine and cypress forests--
cool misty highlands

two barefooted ladies
pad on soft green grass--
cool highland breeze

~ Patrick Wafula


Patrick Wafula writes in August 2009

I would like to comment in advance that for those who have not practically visited this part of our country since the after poll ethnic violence in which more than 1,133 people lost their lives, they cannot appreciate the magnitude of this disaster, which has been exacerbated by the prolonged drought, on human beings.
At first I could not believe my eyes when I saw those IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) tents in clusters and the throngs of haggard people dejectedly sitting outside; I could also not believe immediately the expansive landscape of farms without houses; there are only tiny mabati houses with Kenya Red Cross logo across their roofs on some farms.
And then there are these desolate burnt houses and buildings dotting the landscape on the roadsides and the farms; the scenes stretch all the way from Nakuru, Elburgon, Burnt Forest to Eldoret.
Let the rest be said by haiku:

with empty sacks
refugees queue for relief food--
the Kenya Red Cross

scarred buildings
where houses and shops once stood--
IDP tents

IDP tents dotting
the Rift Valley without crops--
scorching sun

emaciated cattle
browsing on dry dusty grass--
a cloudless blue sky

a scorching sun--
scorched dwarfed maize
tasseling without fruit

landless and homeless
IDPs sit outside their torn tents--
I weep for my country


Patrick Wafula writes in April 2010

Recently, after I arrived in Nairobi from Arusha, my 69 year-old Magdalene and my three sisters, Nangila, Nanjala and Nekesa stopped over at our Nairobi residence on their way from Makueni in Eastern Province, where they had gone to visit their sitawa (in-laws). So the night of Sunday 25th April was very special to us as we spent it together telling stories and catching up on family-social affairs. These wonderful moments brought us fantastic images from our home village, Nyasi Farm in the Rift Valley. Let me share some of these moments, especially the humorous ones, with you.
I would love to do it our way, the haiku way:

village story--
neighbours turn mosquito nets
into seat covers

a neighbour converts
mosquito net into a fishing net--
village story

first time in city--
she asks the cafe waiter
to bring the kettle

I am not able to share the real-time humour in the above haiku, but I will try to explain, starting with the first two: mosquito nets. It happens that Rift Valley, being the highest malaria infested zone in the country, the Ministry of Health is trying very hard to keep the disease at bay by supplying free treated mosquito nets to the residents there. Now look what our semi-illiterate and illiterate Rift Valley village folks, in their innovation, can do with them!

Now to the third haiku. My mother, being the brilliant and eccentric villager she is could not withstand being served tea without seeing the kettle, in that cafe; she was greatly puzzled by the manners of these urbanites who do not value something called good faith. Because, traditionally, in the village that is, one has to see the common kettle or plate from which the tea or food is served; and if you happen to serve a drink or food in cups or plates, you have to taste it first before handing it to your guest. This is what my mother calls good faith.

But even after two mugs of tea and two mandazi each in the Country Bus Station Cafe, it was not enough breakfast for my upcountry folk, who had also carried their own trusted traditional stuff just in case.

after tea and mandazi--
boiled cassava and sweet
potatoes follow

smoked meat--
childhood memories of
the blackened clay pot

Now to the just ended April holidays haiku. It has been full of heavy rains, which brought us bounties.

orange sunset--
children stalking grasshoppers
in the tall grass

contented car washers--
parking of muddy vehicles
scribbled with wash me

the miller's price tag--
fifty shs. for 2 kg of maize
plus grinding

late night shopping--
the milk hawker's shrill call
of buy two get one free

Patrick Wafula

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Mandazi is similar to doughnuts

. Mandazi and Haiku

Cassava (Manihot esculenta), also called yuca or manioc
Cassava in the WIKIPEDIA !


Patrick Wafula writes in January 2011

ploughed farms—
leafless flame trees standing
in scarlet blooms

cold midnight—
women sell Irish potatoes
on the roadside

midnight mist—
moth after moth bump
into bus headlights

two oblivious zebras
slowly cross the road—
screeching brakes

full moon—
playing children’s song
floats on still air

two little girls collecting
maize stalks for firewood—
orange sunset

broken maize stalks—
dry merry gold rustling
in dusty whirlwind

a lone farmer collects
and burns maize stalks—
tilled farms

dusty whirlwind—
a Ford tractor towing
a disc plough


. Trip to the Rift Valley in March, 2011  


in Makueni in the Eastern Province

dry riverbed--
sweating women crashing
stones in the sun

Patrick Wafula
July 2011

Related words

***** Lake Magadi

***** Hell's Gate

***** Kajiado Mission



Anonymous said...

from brown plants
to green carpeting --
the Rift Valley trail

© Anthony Njoroge

anonymous said...

cold in August--
the morning warmth beside
mandazi vendor

Caleb Mutua