Migori residents have lauded the United Nations for adding 16th century archaeological site Thimlich Oinga to the World Heritage List.
The news came during the 42nd World Heritage Committee meeting on Friday under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) .
Oinga's inclusion makes the stone fortified villages, which were at the center of conflict between migrating Bantus and Nilotes, part of the 1,000 wonders of the world.
At a meeting in Bahrain's capital Manama, a total of 30 nominated wonders of the world were vetted, with the site in Nyatike sub-county sailing through. The meeting will go on until July 4.
“We are happy that Migori has represented not only the nation but also Africa as the only site to be recognised this year. This will open the door for tourism and revenue for the country,” Migori Governor Okoth Obado told the Star over the phone on Sunday.
Nyatike MP Tom Odege regretted that roads leading to the site were impassable as there are no infrastructure development in the area.
"National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and Migori should use the status to upgrade the area," he said. “Thimlich Oinga is poised to attract national and international tourists. We need its potential tapped through joint efforts by all stakeholders."
He noted that the area also has Mugabo caves in Muhuru Bay, about 30 kilometers away, which housed people at around the same time.
The area around Lake Victoria has 521 stone structures, the main enclosure being walls varying from one to three meters in thickness, and 1 to 4.2 meters in height.
The interlocking stones are surrounded by a thicket, hence the name 'Thimlich' which means "frightening dense forest" in dholuo. ‘Oinga’ refers to a shield or a fortress.
Resident William Owigo noted the rich history of immigration between the Bantu clans of Suba and the Luo clans of Kabuoch, Kadem, Kanyamkago and Kamgudho.
“We received the news with pride and now want it upgraded. There is no electricity in the site,” Owigo said.
Daudi Obado, Migori Director of Trade and Tourism, said the county's attempts at upgrades were slowed since the area is controlled by NMK.
“We made allocations for the upgrade but since the area has archeological artifacts, development has been stopped completely. With the new list, we will work with more partners to include the upgrade in the budget,” Obado said.
"The area formed a refuge for our ancestors during the war. With the status, we need the land around that is privately owned to be bought for protection. There has been encroachment in the eastern walls."
The Ancient City of Qalhat on the eastern coast of Oman and the Saudi-proposed Al-Ahsa Oasis in the eastern Arabian Peninsula were also added to the World Heritage List.
Unesco's recognition of sites increases chances of international funding, which will remain open until October 2018, for protection and conservation.
“We were to take care of the funding but the new list opens more avenues. We will partner with others before the deadline,” the director said.
Other advantages include worldwide identity, protection during conflict under the Geneva Convection and a boost for tourism.
The World Heritage List was initiated in 1972. The 2018 shortlist had five natural sites, 22 cultural sites and three mixed ones.