Kenya: Tourists Want Public Beach Reopened to Boost Tourism in Mombasa

27 August 2021

Local tourists want the national government to reopen the Sh460 million Mama Ngina Waterfront and Jomo Kenyatta public beach to boost tourism and trade in Mombasa.

The two areas were closed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

But tourists who have been blocked from accessing the Waterfront by National Youth Service personnel said the closure of the facility is hurting the sector.

"I was on holiday in Mombasa but was disappointed when I could not access the Waterfront after I was blocked by NYS officials," said Paul Kaplich.

James Opiyo wondered why the national government spent taxpayers' money to revamp the area only to later deny Kenyans the opportunity to enjoy it or traders to utilise it.

The chairperson of Waterfront traders, Salim Bawazir said 350 traders had lost their source of income due to the closure of the facility.

Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers coast executive Sam Ikwaye said the Waterfront was refurbished to attract more tourists to the tourism hub and boost business and its closure is affecting the sector.

"A lot of money and resources were used to revamp the area and therefore it should be accessible, otherwise it will be meaningless. Closing public areas might scare away local tourists.," Dr Ikwaye said.

Kisauni MP Ali Mbogo said the closing of Jomo Kenyatta beach had affected people who depended on selling goods to tourists.

"The beach should be reopened. Our traders are hurting. The traders' livelihoods have been affected ... . We now have a vaccine, I don't see why the beach should remain shut," he said.

Last week, the National Assembly's Committee on Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives urged the government to reopen the two facilities to allow traders to conduct their business.

The MPs said they would summon the Mombasa County government to explain the circumstances that led to the demolition of kiosks and the eviction of hundreds of traders from Jomo Kenyatta beach.

The beach has remained shut for almost two years to make way for its Sh200 million regeneration.

Hundreds of traders, led by beach operators, boat riders and tour guides who were evicted from the beach, have lamented losing money because they remain jobless due to its closure.

The traders have pleaded with the county government to reopen the facility, as it is yet to start refurbishing it. It is one of the largest recreational facilities in the Coast region, frequented by thousands of local and international tourists.

On June 1, Tourism and Wildlife Principal Secretary Safina Kwekwe announced the phased reopening of the Waterfront.

She said that was to allow the use of the Waterfront for recreation in a safe environment that will protect the health and safety of users as the Covid-19 situation is monitored.

The Waterfront opened daily from 6am to 9am and from 4.30pm to 7pm for health exercises, including walking, jogging, running, cycling and skating.

The ministry categorically prohibited driving into and through the Waterfront, parking vehicles and motorbikes, meetings and other gatherings.

Vending and hawking, games of all types and entry for exercise outside the set times are also banned.

The ministry called all users of the park to strictly adhere to the Covid-19 health protocols like wearing face masks and ensuring social distance.

The park was closed to the public by Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala on March 27, 2021 until further notice to curb the virus.

In January 2019, Mr Balala had said the government would invest Sh200 million to redevelop the Jomo Kenyatta beach and raise it to international standards.

But almost three years later the area remains deserted. Works that were supposed to start last year are yet to kick off.

Hoteliers were banking on the regeneration to boost tourism.

Kenya Coast Tourism Association CEO Julius Owino urged Mr Balala to fast-track the beach project.

"The construction has taken long. The beach is frequented by most domestic tourists, who have been boosting our business. The closure is affecting our industry," Mr Owino said.

There are about 3,000 beach operators in Mombasa but only 1,000 are registered with the association

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