Two Kenyan counties are locked in a fierce fight over a dusty town named after a British and is the burial site of a 'saint'

Taita Taveta leaders pledged to ‘liberate’ Mackinnon Road from ‘occupation’, but Kwale leaders have vowed not give up the town.

  • Situated along the busy Nairobi-Mombasa highway, Mackinnon Road town is administratively in Kwale but both Kwale and Taita Taveta counties are claiming its ownership.
  • Taita Taveta leaders have claimed that the town was illegally transferred to Kwale in the late 1960s and during last year’s campaigns many Taita Taveta leaders pledged to ‘liberate’ Mackinnon Road from ‘occupation’, but Kwale leaders have vowed not give up the town.
  • So while the two counties are busy fighting over the ownership of the town, lets’ go on a discovery journey about how the town came to be and more importantly earned its name.

Situated along the busy Nairobi-Mombasa highway, Mackinnon Road town is administratively in Kwale but both Kwale and Taita Taveta counties are claiming its ownership.

Taita Taveta leaders have claimed that the town was illegally transferred to Kwale in the late 1960s and during last year’s campaigns many Taita Taveta leaders pledged to ‘liberate’ Mackinnon Road from ‘occupation’, but Kwale leaders have vowed to stay put and not give up the town.

Last week on Friday, Taita Taveta Governor, Granton Samboja stormed Mbele Primary School in the area which Kwale County had issued the titled to, sparking the latest spat and tension between the two counties.

“We have learnt with great shock and disbelief about the Taita Taveta County leadership’s attempt to invade Mackinnon Road town and ward in Kwale County. This is a violation of Kwale residents’ rights and freedoms,” Kwale Communications Director Daniel Nyassy said.

Junior officers from Kwale watched as Samboja rolled into the dusty town in a large convoy, accompanied by most leaders from Taita Taveta. Only two policemen were at hand as a crowd cheered the governor and his entourage.

“There is no way the town can be taken away as we watch. The town is in the county and we will do everything possible to reclaim it,” vowed Samboja amid cheers.

The governor followed through his threat and this week deployed revenue collectors to Mackinnon Road town further heightening the row.

Most of the residents in Mackinnon Road town came from Taita and Duruma tribe.

Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya on his hand has dismissed the threat by his Taita Taveta counterpart, to invade and occupy the town this week and take over revenue collection from Kwale.

“We have learnt, with great shock and disbelief, about the Taita Taveta County leadership’s attempt to invade Mackinnon Road and ward in Kwale County, declaring it part of Taita Taveta County. This is a violation of Kwale residents’ rights and freedoms,” said a statement by Mr. Mvurya’s spokesman, Daniel Nyassy, yesterday.

So while the two counties are busy fighting over the ownership of the town, lets’ go on a discovery journey about how the town came to be and more importantly earned its name, - hopefully by the time we are done they would have resolved their dispute.

While at this dusty town, you will see an entry for “Mackinnon-Sclater Road”.

This is a piece of an old 1,000km oxcart road from Mombasa to Busia on the border with Uganda which was started in 1890 by the Imperial British East Africa Company— IBEAC.

The part of it called “Mackinnon Road”, up to Kibwezi, was built by an Australian called George Wilson, and it was named after Sir William Mackinnon, the founder of IBEAC.

And that is how the town came to be and earned its name.

Mackinnon Road train station is also found within the town, lies along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway near Mariakani town,  the most outstanding landmark here is however,  the Mackinnon Road Mosque.

The mosque was built in honor and as a result of the tomb of Seyyid Baghali, who was a foreman at the time of building the railway fabled for his tremendous strength and according to many, charmed lifestyle.

Legend has it that Baghali was a saint whose family tree traced back to the Holy Prophet, a fact that he tried to conceal from the public to no avail. For when he got tired of carrying stones, his ‘laden karai’ (vessel) would float above his head to the consternation of many.

However, conflicting accounts record that Baghali was a man endowed with tremendous strength and would balance several Karais on his head, a feat that was hitherto unseen before.

After he died he was buried in the town but by 1940s, when the grave was still covered in bushes, travellers would stop there and ask for boons and generally attribute their safety during their journey to the holy man buried at the tomb.

The news spread, a legend started and a reputation of the place grew.

Baghali is also said to have been able to understand and speak the language of animals, on one occasion, when the working party was around the area of Mackinnon, a huge python appeared and it was ready to strike at anyone who dared to approach it.

Some of the labourers and one of the Englishmen got ready with their lathis (sticks) and gun to shoot it but Baghali begged them not to harm the python.

He then faced the snake and pleaded with it to leave, the snake stood for a while, poised to attack, but shortly after, it gradually backed down and slithered away.

It is said he also kept the man-eating lions of Tsavo at bay and as a result the labourers in his camp remained safe.

In these troubling times residents of Mackinnon Road town must surely miss their ‘Saint Baghali’ to offer some much needed guidance and resolve this simmering conflict.

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