by CHETI PRAXIDES
Monday August 14, 2023
Tourists flock Lamu Island in November,2022
Hotel and tourism stakeholders in Lamu County are worried a lot following the recent spate of terrorist attacks and killings.Between June and August this year, 8 people were killed and property, including houses, vehicles, and motorbikes destroyed in terror attacks by suspected al Shabaab in Lamu.
They said the recurrent attacks witnessed in some villages of Lamu might impact negatively the tourism sector, particularly at this time when the tourist peak season is already gearing on.
The most recent terror attack and killing are that of August 1, 2023, where more than 60 heavily armed suspected al Shabaab militants ambushed vehicles and sprayed them with bullets at Mwembeni area, near Lango La Simba along the Lamu-Witu-Garsen route.
Two people, including the wife of Hindi ward MCA, James Njaaga were killed while ten others, including Njaaga, were injured during the 7.40 am attack.
A Toyota matatu and two motorbikes were torched.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki while appearing before MPs on August 2 this year, however, claimed that all the more than 60 militants involved in the Lango La Simba attack were neutralised by Kenyan security forces.
Speaking to the Star on Lamu Island on Monday hoteliers, tour guide operators, and tourist boat operators among others expressed worry that despite the attacks being orchestrated on the mainland areas, which are miles away from Lamu and Shella Islands, the county’s main tourist hubs, they might still impact negatively on their sectors.
The tourism stakeholders questioned why the attacks are being orchestrated at a time when the high tourist season has kicked in.
The months of July and August are among the high seasons in most of the tourist destinations in Kenya given that most schools are closed with parents seeking to take their children out on holiday.
Ali Shekuwe, a hotel owner, said, unlike previous years when the season would witness an influx in the number of both domestic and international tourists, this year has seen a very low number of visitors to Lamu.
Shekuwe blamed the situation on the recent attacks, adding that many guests and tourists have shied away from visiting the Lamu destination for security reasons.
He said last year his hotel was almost fully booked by August but this year, there is less than 10 booking at his premise.
“Everybody knows that Lamu Island, Shella and the rest of our tourist destinations have not recorded any terror incidents and killings," Shekuwe said.
"The attacks reported every time are conducted in the mainland areas of Mpeketoni, Witu, Juhudi, Salama, Widho, and Boni Forest which are far from the islands. Unfortunately, once tourists out there hear that there is an attack in Lamu, they feel Lamu, Shella, and the rest of the archipelago have been attacked.
"This directly affects our trade and tourism sectors. How I wish the attacks are reported in a manner that will differentiate the Lamu archipelago and the mainland places.”
Salim Lali, a beach operator said many of his clients outside the country have always reached out to him whenever an attack is reported in the county.
Lali said some have even canceled their bookings despite his efforts to explain to them that where the attacks occurred was far from the tourist destinations of Lamu and Shella.
“There’s no job. The tourists I expected to have come this August have canceled their bookings claiming Lamu is unsafe. All this is due to the attacks witnessed between June and August in the mainland areas,” Lali said.
Ahmed Abdalla, a dhow operator, said during this high tourist season, business is usually good.
Abdalla noted that at this particular season, he would make several trips, picking up guests at Manda Airport to Lamu or Shella.
He said he would also have lined up appointments to ferry tourists snorkeling in Manda Toto, Ras Kitau, and other areas and that means a lot of money for him.
“Unfortunately, the number of tourists coming to Lamu in recent times has been very low. Sometimes I park my dhow in the yard for two days without a job. Something needs to be done to save our businesses. They’re dwindling with each passing day. I blame the insecurity incidents witnessed from time to time," Abdalla said.
The national government has since 2015 to date undertaken a multi-agency security operation in Boni Forest meant to flush out al Shabaab militants believed to be hiding inside the dense forest.
The operation, which has undergone various rebranding from Linda Boni to Boni Enclave Campaign, Operation Fagia Msitu, and now Operation Amani Boni (OAB), has to an extent, helped to stabilise the security situation in Lamu and parts of Garissa, Tana River, and Kilifi that border the expansive Boni forest towards the Kenya-Somalia border.
The operation is undertaken by the KDF, National Police Service (NPS), Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), Kenya Forest Service (KFS), and National government administration officers (NGAO).
KDF is, however, designated as the lead agency.