The Star (Nairobi)

16 November 2012

Kenya: Tight Security as Lamu Cultural Festival Begins

SECURITY has been beefed up as visitors arrive for the 12th edition of the Lamu Cultural Festivals which kicked off yesterday.

More than 50,000 visitors including 1,000 international tourists are expected on the island for the week long festivals. Lamu county commissioner Steven Ikua said security organs are on high alert and assured visitors of their security during and after the festival.

"Nothing will be taken for granted. We are well prepared to ensure visitors to Lamu are safe," said Ikua. Last year's event was compromised by travel advisories after the kidnapping of tourists by the Al Shabaab militia group.

Organizers of the event said the capturing of Kismayu by Amisom forces is a major boost to security in the region. A large turnout is expected for this year's event compared to last year.

Speaking in Lamu yesterday, the festival's chairman Ghalib Alawy said there are enough facilities for the high number of visitors. He said visitors started thronging the historical town, listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site, on Monday.

Alawy said the annual event will showcase the Swahili culture of the communities living in Lamu and its surroundings. "This will help promote the cultural heritage of Lamu making the historic town a tourism centre. We are now starting a new tourism season with the win over the Al Shabaab," said Alawy.

He said the event will be used to unite the Pokomo and Orma communities following the massacre between the two communities which left dozens of people dead in the Tana Delta two months ago.

"The two communities will for the first time participate in the event," said Alawy. Activities at the event will nclude dhow races, canoe races, swimming competitions and traditional dances.

There will also be a display of swahili food, swahili bridal, poetry and evening musical performances. The National Museums of Kenya assistant director Athman Hussein said the festivals will help stimulate the economy of the island.

"We are optimistic that the tourism sector and the economy of Lamu will be regained," said Hussein.

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