It had been 18 agonising months for traders and beach lovers as the Mama Ngina Waterfront and Jomo Kenyatta public beach in Mombasa remained closed to curb the spread of Covid-19.
But beach operators can now resume their work and sunbathers will be able to relax and unwind in the county's key recreational public areas.
When the government closed the two areas on March 27, 2020 many traders lost their jobs and holidaymakers were denied places to relax.
The Sh460 million Mama Ngina Waterfront, which was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2019, draws international and local tourists. It was revamped to transform Mombasa into a leading and competitive world-class tourism destination.
The Jomo Kenyatta beach is one of the largest recreational facilities in the Coast region, frequented by thousands of local and international tourists.
But it has remained shut for almost two years to make way for its Sh200 million regeneration.
The Mama Ngina Waterfront was closed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Hundreds of traders, led by beach operators, boat riders, curio sellers, entertainers, Swahili cuisine chefs, masseurs and tour guides had lamented losses arising from the closure.
Traders pleaded with the county government to reopen the public beach, as officials were yet to start rehabilitating it.
Governor Hassan Joho has now directed his officials to find ways of allowing traders to operate in the two areas.
The order comes after Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir petitioned the county on behalf of the traders.
"I have always defended and protected beach operators for the longest time, ever since I was the Kisauni MP, I know your challenges," said Mr Joho while marking World Tourism Day.
"We will formulate policies that support you to ensure whoever operates along the coastline are registered, recognised, trained and have the capacity. Enable the beach operators to operate, find a common ground and work together."
Mr Joho said his administration will continue training beach operators and invest in them to enhance the beach experience. But he urged the operators to be vaccinated.
Mr Nassir had earlier petitioned the parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry and Cooperatives to compel the government to reopen the public beach and the waterfront.
Fend for themselves
"Mr Joho, please give our traders access to this facility so that they can fend for themselves. They need to earn a living to enable their children to go to school. It is important for us to open the public beach and the Mama Ngina Waterfront so that the traders can earn their income," Mr Nassir said.
The MP lamented that, next to the public beach, several hotels have been privatized, denying traders access to operate in the area.
"We want our people to access these beaches. Talk to the hotel owners to allow beach operators accessibility. We should ensure economic empowerment for our people," added the MP, urging beach operators and Mama Ngina Waterfront traders to be vaccinated.
Changamwe MP Omar Mwinyi urged hotel owners to allow beach operators to work in their establishments.
"All the hotels should be attached with their beach operators to curb intruders and enhance security. For instance, in Tanzania all beaches are accessed by anyone. They are free and beach operators can operate within. Hotels in Tanzania are not denying operators access to the tourism product," he said.
Lack of activities at the beach had left many vendors and their families hurting.
On June 1, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife Principal Secretary Safina Kwekwe announced the phased and safe reopening of the waterfront.
The waterfront opens daily from 6am to 9am and from 4.30pm to 7pm for health exercises, including walking, jogging, running, cycling and skating.
The ministry prohibited driving into and through the waterfront, parking vehicles and motorbikes, meetings and other gatherings The facility is staffed by the National Youth Service.
But the traders said the closure of the facilities hurt their livelihoods.
Waterfront traders chairman Salim Bawazir said about 350 traders lost their source of income.
"I was evicted when my shop was flattened by the county government. We do not know the status of this beach. We want justice. Was the beach grabbed by tycoons?" posed Margerate Luvuno.
Tourism players, led by Kenya Coast Tourism Association CEO Julius Owino, urged the State to fast-track the refurbishing of the project so as to boost the beach product.
The hotelier said about 3,000 beach operators work in Mombasa but only 1,000 have been registered with their association.
In January 2019, Tourism CS Najib Balala said the government would invest Sh200 million in redeveloping the Jomo Kenyatta public beach and raise it to international standards.
But the work, which was supposed to start in February the same year, had not kicked off and the beach remained deserted.
The beach had 400 traders but most of them were flushed out to pave the way for the reconstruction.