Tag Archives: Kenya Tourism

Kenya tourism tanks amid increasing violence | Al Jazeera 

Kenya tourism tanks amid increasing violence 
Margot Kiser

Attacks on tourists has contributed to a steep decline in tourism in Kenya.


Mombasa, Kenya – In July, a Russian visitor was shot dead near Fort Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Mombasa’s Old Town. Police ruled the killing a robbery. Three weeks later, assailants shot a German tourist at point-blank range, while she and her Ugandan travel companion were visiting Old Town’s open market. The woman died instantly. Her friend sustained a bullet wound in the leg and survived.
Last September, the attack on Nairobi’s upmarket Westgate Mall killed more than 70 and injured scores. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack via Twitter, vowing to continue wreaking destruction until Kenya withdraws its troops from Somalia.
Violence in Kenya has been escalating. Since the attack, northern Kenya, from the Somali border to Mombasa, has suffered from a string of bomb and grenade attacks, killing dozens. Most incidents have targeted public venues such as churches, nightclubs, and bus stations.
‘High threats’
As a result of the violence and subsequent travel advisories, tourism on Kenya’s coast has dropped by four percent since January, according to the Kenya Tourism Board. Between January and May – the high season – there were 381,000 arrivals in 2014 compared to 398,000 over the same period last year.
The UK Foreign Office issued a travel advisory, warning at that time of “high threats” of terror attacks and called for the evacuation of hundreds of UK nationals holidaying on the coast. The US, Australia, and France also issued travel warnings, advising against all but essential travel to coastal areas, including within 60km of the Kenyan-Somali border.
The US embassy in Nairobi meanwhile reduced its staff. The UK went so far as to close its consulate in Mombasa.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s reaction has been largely political, labelling the travel warnings “unfriendly” and added that the designation would increase panic among the populace. Draconian travel restrictions, he explained, only serve to embolden the extremists.
After massacres in Lamu County, in June and July, which chiefly targeted peasants belonging to Kenya’s ruling ethnic group, the president was quick to point his finger at the political opposition party, Coalition for Reform and Democracy. Al-Shabab, however, announced on its Somali radio station that it had carried out the attack.
Al-Shabab’s motives are economic as well as political – to weaken and punish Kenya; up to 226,000 locals are directly or indirectly employed in the country’s tourist industry during the high season, providing 4.1 percent of total employment.
Interviewed by Al Jazeera in his apartment at the Tamarind Village, Mombasa’s Governor Hassan Ali Joho was relaxed in a white Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt and madras Bermuda shorts. “I won’t lie to you; Mombasa is a small town and there are several families we know whose children have gone to al-Shabab,” said the governor, who has four children of his own.
“These are kids with no jobs, no hope, and some are drug addicts. Al-Shabab gives them $1,000, tells them to fight jihad and delivers them to the gates of Somalia.”
However, the heavy-handed response by Kenya’s security forces, who have conducted widespread arrests and have been accusedof abusing those detained, has a negative impact in establishing security, according to Joho.
“Tourism and security require planning. Preventing violence requires careful breakdown of intelligence collection information. The culprits would have been caught by now if intelligence had been shared between Kenya’s various armed forces. Now we have a situation where [the police] generalise everthing and arrest the whole world,” he told Al Jazeera.
‘Safety is relative’
Tour operators and hoteliers have blamed the media for magnifying what they say are isolated crimes that can happen anywhere in the world these days. “Terrorism is a global phenomenon” is the latest political-commercial mantra heard here.
Locals in Mombasa suggest that some of the violence is not political, in its aims or origins. “Suppliers like the pig and chicken farmers, the fishermen, are all affected by lapses in security,” said Sam Ikwaye, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers. “If you don’t have jobs then they may engage in criminal activities.”
Mohammed Hersi, chairman of the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association (MCTA) and CEO of Heritage Hotels, had just returned from a trade fair in South Africa whengrenades were hurled into a Mombasa church in the suburb of Likoni and at the Reef Hotel, in the Nyali suburb. The attack drove off tourists brought in by Mombasa’s main UK tour operator and air charter services.
“At the moment we have no British tour operators,” said Hersi. He spends most of his time managing Mombasa’s Voyager Beach Hotel, owned by the Kenyatta family.
Despite the lapses in security, there are “die-hard [British] tourists who have been coming here for decades and know Mombasa well”.
Instead of waiting for the UK to rescind travel advisories, the MCTA announced last week that it is offering British citizens – and tourists of any nationality – “inbound insurance”, covering them in Mombasa and up the coast to Lamu. The insurance “covers any terror-related attack”, Hersi explained.
“Safety is relative. Kenyans know the value of tourism. By and large, Mombasa is a safe and peaceful place,” Hersi said.
Governor Joho faces the daunting task of reviving the town’s tanked tourist industry. The 41-year-old newcomer to office presided over the peaceful Eid al-Fitr Baraza celebration at Treasury Square in Old Town. Like his colleagues – senators, MPs, chiefs – Joho wore a crisp white kanzu and kofia hat, and was last to address the crowd consisting of several hundred men and women seated under tents. The topic was security.
Before his election in March, Joho reportedly promised that by summer 2014, Mombasa would be a free port, where imported goods are exempt from customs duties.
When asked how he’d make Mombasa more secure, the governor, stretching out on the couch, replied: “My dream is to make it like Dubai.”


‘A Long Walk Home, Judith Tebbutt’s memoir as pirate hostage in Somalia – Review


LAWLESS LANDS  09.05.13    4:45 AM ET

‘A Long Walk Home’: Somali Pirate Hostage Publishes Her Memoir
In a new book, Judith Tebbutt recounts her six-month ordeal as a hostage of Somali pirates and revisits the night of the kidnapping, when her husband of 33 years lost his life trying to protect her.
Judith Tebbutt, a 56-year old British social worker, wouldn’t know at the time that her long walk home began almost as soon as she and her husband, David, touched down on a grassy airstrip on the northern Kenya coast on September 10, 2011.

The couple had been vacationing in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and planned to wind up their vacation with a weeklong stay at Kiwayu Safari Village, a starkly beautiful beach resort 25 miles south of the Somali border that offered “barefoot luxury” to its mostly well-heeled clients.

After a late lunch, the Tebbutts’ host walked them down the beach to their cottage. “Banda Zero”—the last of a string of 18 palm-thatched cottages—sat directly on the beach over a quarter of a mile away from the main lodge and dining area.

Call it woman’s intuition or just plain common sense, but Judith Tebbutt didn’t like the feel of the place and threw backward glances at the main lodge. She knew the resort advertised itself as a secluded getaway, but “the silence was very pronounced, a ‘peace and quiet’ that felt just a shade remote, even intimidating.”

“Where is everybody?” Tebbutt asked, noting the absence of children laughing and splashing in the sea. In fact, the beach was deserted.

“You’re in luck,” resort owner George Moorhead, a white Kenyan, answered. “You’re the only two here.” If Moorhead sensed her unease, he didn’t acknowledge it.

Often those on safari are on the adventurous side, so the last tent is usually considered a bonus for its privacy. The luxuriously appointed and “absolutely huge” banda had no windows or doors that could lock.

“Instead of a perk, it struck me as a slight cause of concern that we would be so much alone in this rather lonely place,” Tebbutt writes in A Long Walk Home (Faber & Faber, 2013), her recently published account of a terrifying ordeal that would end up taking her into the war-torn heart of Somalia.

Alone inside the banda, Tebbutt voiced her concern to David, who told her gently to “chill.” “This is going to be our Robinson Crusoe experience,” the 58-year-old publishing executive reassured her. (David was director of finances at Faber & Faber, the publishers of Tebbutt’s book.)

That evening they dined with Moorhead, who gave them the background on his decades-old family-run resort. About 9 p.m., after a few gin and tonics, the couple headed back to Banda Zero. Tebbutt put away her bracelets and the watch that operated her hearing aids in the cottage’s wooden lockbox. The couple, married for 33 years, fell asleep holding hands.

The next thing she knew the lights were on again and she heard her husband shout, “What the fuck is going on?”

David was standing at the foot of the bed, inside the mosquito net, his arms raised above his head as he grappled with someone taller than him. Two other men sat on either side of the bed, one prodding Tebbutt in the back with the tip of a rifle. She thought it might have been hotel askaris (watchmen) moving them out of their banda as a result of some breach of security.

But then the men gripped her arms and hauled her off the bed, through the mosquito net and out the doorway. She looked back at David, who was so focused and locked in battle with the shadowy assailant he didn’t seem to notice his wife being dragged out of the banda. When she stumbled along the beach, they pulled her up by her hair.

She screamed and dug her heels into the sand, demanding her abductors return her to hotel. “But my resistance was useless,” she writes.”These men were just too strong for me.”

The resort appeared to be as deserted as when she and David arrived earlier that day. All the askaris were on their tea break at the time. Crashing waves and high winds drowned out her screams. Of the reported two dozen askaris on duty that night, only one heard a gunshot from the vicinity of Banda Zero; Tebbutt, it seems, did not. Under a moon “nightmarishly full and bright,” she was tossed into a tiny “scrappy” fishing skiff. The last man on the boat, she noted, was tall and well built. She silently christened him Leader Man.

She asked her captors where they were taking her, and wondered whether they were headed toward Mombasa, farther down the Kenyan coast. But the man running the engine—the Navigator, who had offered her a pair of trousers for warmth—said, “Somalia.”

“Money, money, money,” says another, rubbing his fingers together. He couldn’t have been more than 19 years old, younger than her son.

One of her captors eventually told her she was lucky to have been kidnapped by pirates and not Islamic militants, who might torture and kill her.

In those first hours, Tebbutt tried to accept the fact that she had been kidnapped, and to endure the grueling trip—it would take three days—up the coast through insect-infested mangrove swamps, in a boat roughly 6 by 12 feet, crammed with jerricans of petrol, without food. She watched the pirates pop balls of rice into their mouths, neglecting to feed her.

Every five hours, they would land, fall to their knees, press palms and foreheads to the ground and pray—a hypocritical gesture, Tebbutt thought, given the nature of their undertaking. On the third day the pirates landed once more and transferred her to an SUV that hurtled into desolate scrubland and over sand dunes. All she knew was that she was hundreds of miles from where she’d been kidnapped. Thus began the start of her six-month nightmare; her kidnappers stashed her in a series of windowless metal-roofed structures surrounded by sand bags and men with machine guns. She was immediately stripped of her Western identity and cloaked in a jilbab, a form of traditional Arabic attire for women.

One of her captors eventually told her she was lucky to have been kidnapped by pirates and not Islamic militants, who might torture and kill her. “When they get the money, you will go home,” he told her. He declined to divulge the amount they were asking.

A few days into her captivity, a pirate leader that Tebbutt had named the Negotiator asked for her husband’s phone number. She replied that she didn’t know it. And he had left his phone back home in England.

“Your son?”

She didn’t know his number either.

“How can you be a good wife if you don’t know your own husband’s phone number?”

“I was dragged out of my bed and onto a boat in the middle of the night by men with rifles. So I didn’t have time to pick up my phone.”

The inevitable regrets took hold: Why did this happen to us? Why didn’t we go to Zanzibar?

Initially, Tebbutt held out hope of rescue and a reunion with her husband. One of the pirates eventually gave her reason to hope this was true. They’d soon take her to the Blue Room Hotel in Mombasa, he said, where David was waiting.

“David wouldn’t allow this outrage to go on for long,” she believed. “He would come find me. He would strain every sinew, do whatever had to be done to get me freed.”

Meanwhile, Tebbutt tried to turn her solitary confinement into a meditative study in solitude and discipline. She found ways to reestablish “self-autonomy” by giving structure and routine to her day. As soon as she was given a notebook and pen, she began keeping a diary, but instead of tracking the boring, repetitive routine found in most hostage accounts, she decided to write the details of her abduction, what the pirates looked like, and the layout of the various cement breeze-block structures she lived in, and stay alert for any details of who might have been behind the attack.
While these projects were soothing, her journal entries range from compassion and resolve to rage, expressed through gritted teeth and a classically British stiff upper lip.

Perhaps because of a hearing difficulty, Tebbutt has a keen eye for detail, down to the colors and patterns of the curtains in her cell and every contour of each pirate’s face.

She writes about drawing on childhood experiences, when she spent considerable time alone. Jude, as she is known to her family, was born with a heart defect, which meant long stays in a hospital and long periods among unfamiliar doctors and surgeons.

She had met David in 1979 and knew right away he was the soulmate she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. The couple married in 1986, and a year later, had their only child, Ollie.

“There were times in our marriage when David would say—fondly, in jest— ‘I just want to look after you, you’re so tiny.’”

Tebbutt is indeed small framed, childlike, which was why she felt was doubly important to let people know she was not one to be pushed around.

One day a pirate came into her room and handed her a phone. The British Consulate was calling. Once proof of life was established, the negotiations got under way. After two weeks, the pirates managed to contact Ollie, then 25. “Mum, there’s something I have to tell you,” he said measuredly. “Dad didn’t survive his injuries.”

Tebbutt felt her heart stop.

“He was trying to protect you, Mum. He was brave to the very end.”

The pirates were miffed that she’d found out her husband was dead, fearing the fact might diminish her morale.

The challenge for Tebbutt then became one not only getting through the day, but confronting grief and rage in a squalid room in the presence of “mercenary creatures” who simply told her to get another husband. One pirate told her his firstborn son had died as a baby, but that he had to believe he’d gone to a better place. He spoke a bit of English and confided to Tebbutt that he had been conscripted at gunpoint the day of the abduction, while fishing with his brother near Ras Kamboni, a village just inside Somalia. The man showed her a photo of a beach scene on his phone. It was Kiwayu. While he wouldn’t say whether he took the photo, he admitted the pirates knew she and David were the only guests at the resort the night of September 11. “We had to wait until midnight to get you.”


Tebbutt tried to keep fit by walking in circles, swiveling her hips to spin an imaginary hula hoop, and practicing yoga and Pilates.
Her background in social work helped her not fear the criminals, and her history of work with traumatized and intimidating patients gave her compassion. However abhorrent her abductors’ and captors’ crime, Tebbutt writes, Somalia is a shattered state offering almost no opportunity for an honest living.

Around Christmastime, the pirates disclosed that Ollie was only able to raise $300,000. They threatened to sell her to other pirates. “You know in Somalia anything can happen … There is no government, no police. This man could make you disappear. And no one would know.”

The Big Man, it seems, had ordered several kidnappings at once: of two female Spanish aid workers in Dadaab, an American aid worker named Jessica Buchanan, and Marie Dedieu, a retiree from France who died in captivity. (The pirates threw her failing body on a donkey and even tried to negotiate a ransom for her remains.)

While listening to the BBC World Service one day, Tebbutt heard Foreign Secretary William Hague talk about an international conference on Somalia, to be held in London. Piracy was high on the agenda.

He analyzed the problem as a symptom a failed state. After the government collapsed in 1992, Somalia’s coastline became a dumping ground for toxic waste from abroad and a free seafood buffet for foreign trawlers. Angry fisherman took vengeance by exacting a toll that was hard to distinguish from extortion. Justifying their actions as retaliation against sea poachers, they began to hold ships hostage, demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars. By 2009 pirates were fetching an average of $5.4 million per ship. In turn, navies around the world, particularly those of NATO and the European Union, and private vessels kitted out with private security, began patrolling the Indian Ocean.

“This new vigilance had helped to turn the pirates focus towards ‘softer targets,’” Tebbutt notes, “foreign tourists, like David and me.”

In the middle of the night she awoke to the sight of Leader Man standing in the doorway. He came to her, held her hands in his “platelike” palms and bowed his head for a few moments and left. “My hunch—it was nothing more—was that he knew that I knew what he’d done in the early hours of 11 September, and, in that light, his gesture towards me had a look of contrition about it.”

On March 21, 2012, Tebbutt was released. She had lost 50 pounds and, from the tough trip up the Somali coast, had developed scoliosis in her spine. While it was not the longest a hostage had been held (the two Spanish women were held nearly two years), she had, in losing David, paid the highest price.

Judith and David Tebbutt
Judith and David Tebbutt. (Excerpt from A Long Walk Home )

One senses in Tebbutt’s memoir of captivity a certain dismay that Western governments and agencies seek to address the symptoms of Somalia’s anarchy and chaos, rather than dealing with its core problem, economic desperation. “It was … clear that my captors were not Islamic militants but common or garden variety extortionists whose sole interest was money,” she notes.

After her release she learned details of David’s death. It is likely that he was murdered because he put up a fight, indeed maybe almost wrestled the gun from the assailant, when he was shot. Crime-scene analysts say, gauging from the blood stains, that at one point David had been lying face down diagonally across the bed, suggesting he may have been “butt stroked” with an AK-47, fell to the bed, and shot from behind.

One of the first things Tebbutt did after being put in solitary confinement in Amara, a coastal town and pirate’s nest, was to hide her wedding band by tying it inside her pajamas. She felt blessed the pirates never found it.

She learned also that on the morning following the attack a man named Ali Babitu Kololo had been arrested by Kenyan authorities. She recognized Kololo from one of the photos she had been shown. A 32-year old Boni tribesman, Kololo later testified in court that he’d been cutting firewood in a forest when a friend of his had brought him toward the Somali border to get him a job. He wasn’t aware they’d crossed into Somalia in the early hours on September 10, when, he said, armed five armed Somalis forced him on a boat to take the them to Kiwayu. About 7 p.m., near the time Tebbutt and David were strolling down the beach for dinner, the pirates set out from Ras Kamboni under the cover of darkness to Mkokoni, the village nearest Kiwayu Safari Village.

While Kololo testified that as soon as the anchored at Kongowale beach near the hotel, he managed to escape from the gang and headed north. Kololo was intercepted by the head of security at the hotel and described him as nervous and unable to look them in the eyes. He also was wearing sandals, a brand that is commonly worn in Somalia.

Kololo had worked at KSV as a groundskeeper and sand raker for three months in 2010. He would have known that the askaris’ tea break occurred between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. Contrary to his testimony of escaping the gang almost as soon as they came ashore, chief counterterror investigator for New Scotland Yard, Neil Hibberd, testified that there was one set of sandal prints leading to back of the bandas, made by a brand of footwear typically used by Somalis and prohibited among the staff at the resort. Apparently the other five kidnappers were barefoot. The sandal prints were those of a person visiting each banda, evidently looking for victims.

Via video link, Judith testified that she had seen a photo of Kololo and couldn’t confirm that he hadn’t been inside Banda Zero.

Soon after publication of her book, at the end of July, a Kenyan court sentenced Kololo to death. He is the only person so far tried and sentenced in the murder and kidnapping case. His lawyer says he plans to appeal.



How safe is Kenya’s coast for tourists?

Read my award-winning Newsweek story about the tourist kidnappings.


Paradise revised. Difficult to imagine that anything bad can happen in a place this beautiful. Manda island, 2011

Glassy waters on approach to Marie Dedieu’s grass hut. Like fruit on an outdoor stand almost anyone living the Robinson Crusoe dream was ripe for the plucking. (margot kiser, 2011)

Aerial photo of shoreline and acacia trees where pirates stashed Dedieu for the night. Near Ras Kamboni, Somalia.



Near Kiwayu

Feels safe enough to me. The calm and relaxed atmosphere I remember when I first visited Lamu in the early ’90s has replaced the palpable tension – the terror – and eerie quiet that followed the kidnaps. Safe or not – who really knows – Lamu has reverted to that hidden gem that every visitor feels they’re the first to discover. Most importantly, I no longer look at every fishing skiff as if it might be packed with pirates predisposed to snatch the first mzungu (European) they see.

Is this a false sense of security?

Every evening at 6pm administration policemen armed with AKs patrol Shela and Manda beaches. I don’t see the rumored armed patrol boats in the Shela channel where an armed gang plucked Marie Dedieu. BBC recently did a segment “testing” security in Lamu. The presenter hopped on a police boat with heavily armed men and headed toward the Shela channel. But patrol boats and surveillance aircraft seem only materialize when journalists are lurking.

Admin police armed with AKs patrol Shela’s beach — reassuring or daunting sight?

A nearby US military base reportedly sends drones to surveille southern Somalia. In June, the British High Commission donated high-tech, high-speed Zodiac-like boat to local administration police to patrol waters around the Lamu Archipelago.  Nice gesture but whether it’s used to that end or to moonlight as a taxi to ferry ill relatives of police to the mainland is anyone’s guess.

As early as July, 2011, AMISOM had made gains in expelling Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked insurgency group, from Mogadishu. After losing revenue from Mogadishu port, cash-strapped rebels could no longer afford to sniff piously at the avarice of pirates. They began demanding protection money from pirates so they could gas up boats or pass through their clan territory. For the first time, insurgents and pirates were interdependent. No more criminal or ideological apartheid.

Radio active mangoes

The successes of AMISOM and increased security on vessels forced criminals to think of other ways of making money. Ironically, these conditions created the perfect storm for land-based kidnappings of tourists and aid workers.

Crooks adapt and commit crimes in ways that defy the imagination. Law enforcement is always playing catch up.

Instead of beefing up security around Lamu, Kenya‘s reaction was to launch a military invasion into Somalia. This week marks the one year anniversary of Kenya Defense Forces first incursion into the failed state. Cynics and conspiracy theorists reckon Kenya and the US have wanted to do this for some time. The kidnappings offered the perfect opportunity. Some believe various governments planned the kidnappings, the murders. The victims – like most wars – were collateral damage in a long overdue war.

Drifting toward Somalia.

Since the invasion the US-backed Kenya Defense Forces (recently “re-hatted” under auspices of AMISOM) futher secured most of Mogadishu. AMISOM recently announced that it has flushed out Shabab from Kismayu, the strategic port town about 500 kms south of Mogadishu, thus cutting off one of the insurgent group’s main source of revenue — charcoal.

Has the invasion that began last October helped secure northern Kenya from its spillover of pirates and insurgents? There are too few tourists in Lamu now to test the theory, but military spokesmen and analysts say Al Shabab has dispersed deeper into the bush of Somalia. Others say they’re fleeing either south to lawless Tanzania and north to Yemen. As of this writing, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded a 54% drop in maritime piracy attacks in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Adan in the last year. It’s been reported that Somali pirates are now raiding scallop fishermen off the coast of France.

Pirates, terrorists and thugs probably have better things to do than hang around their last crime scene. Yet no one but a politician or local hoteliers would say it’s 100% safe to return to Kenya’s coast. Reminds me of the scene in ‘Jaws’ when the mayor of Martha’s Vineyard urges tourists to go back in the water, even after what could only be a great white killed two swimmers. The obvious motive was to mitigate loss of tourist revenue.

Paradise restored? View of Shela from Manda during spring tide

You would think any civic-minded stake-holder – such as the relatively wealthy hoteliers in the area – would make a lot of noise and hold local government officials accountable for the glaring lack of security. I asked one hotelier why they didn’t press officials on this matter. Did it have anything to do with the fact that the government is so rife with corruption it would be a task in futility even to try? She looked down while planting her feet in the sand and sighed. Those who dog officials might have hell to pay in the form of revoked operating licenses. Yet even for hotels to pool resources to hire private militia is not cost effective. It is understandable if unacceptable that these hoteliers lash out at journalists who try to shine a light on darkness.

Newsflash to nasty hoteliers — no one’s going to come to Lamu because they feel sorry for your loss of revenue and having to lay off your staff. It’s up to you to keep harassing officials en mass.

Lamu has been and will forever be a destination for the intrepid traveler. By ‘intrepid’ I mean you need your wits about you, not for kidnappers but petty thieves and fish mongers likely to rip you off.

After 9/11, 2001 attack on Twin Towers in NYC, some friends vowed never to board a commercial airliner again. I opted to travel more.  I figured, what were the odds of something like that ever happening again? I became more of a fatalist than I already was after living in Africa by then for many years. If you don’t, you run the risk of letting traumatic events out of your control run the rest of your life.

Counter-terror and anti-piracy officials I have spoken to say that post-election Somalia will mean an influx of aid workers. Fresh blood like this will be most vulnerable to kidnaps. If you are kidnapped be sure it’s by land-based pirates and not Shabab; it’s illegal for most governments to negotiate ransoms with designated terrorist groups.

Gabriella’s Fort.

The passage of time and a short memory for bad things that happen in beautiful places will determine whether various governments around the world decide to ease travel restrictions to Kenya. Until then they are reluctant to do so should another incident occur.

Kenya and Lamu are safe with minimal security, though I would not recommend staying in a grass hut near the beach that doesn’t have windows and doors that can lock.  Private villas and hotels in Lamu or Shela town should be fine.

Maasai askari (guard)

You have to be extremely unlucky to get kidnapped. You’re as likely to get struck by lightning in Montana or hit by a taxi in Manhattan than kidnapped by pirates in paradise.

Stopover mosque, Shela.

Nanni Moccia — A Serious Old Lion

The “burial-at-sea” took place at 5 pm. About two dozen close friends, acquaintances, Italian compatriots, neighbors, and a few curious souls arrived around 4:45  in a motorcade of small taxi boats. The sun was still high and everyone wore sun-glasses in defense against the striking Equatorial sun. Some wore black, some white, as if in equal parts respect to a man in life as in death.

Nanni died alone last Saturday morning in the single engine plane he was piloting. The newspapers identified him as Gianmocia Piero, but we, his neighbors in this tight sea-side community of Lamu,  knew him as “Nanni”.

Claudio Modola is an architect and good family friend, and bears a close resemblance to the actor, Tom Berenger. Claudio had been in charge of organizing the funeral.  He hopped onto our small boat and pointed to me by way of asking me to introduce myself.

“We’ve never met, but you and I are Face Book friends”, I said. Then he pointed to a man I was sitting next to and asked if we had arrived together.  (Claudio emphasized that he did not mean ‘together’ in the Biblical sense). “Oh, no,” I said, “That’s Herbert; we’re just Face Book ‘friends’, too”.

I had first met Nanni’s wife, Elena, a petite, kind and no-nonsense Italian, on my first and only visit to Rome. A mutual Shela acquaintance had encouraged me to look her up. One afternoon, exhausted and  lost, I rang her from a cafe near the French embassy, which turned out to be just a few streets away from her flat. Though she didn’t know me from Adam,  she had graciously treated me and her good friend, Livia, to a sea food pasta brunch at the Hotel de Russie.

At last the Moccia family arrived, gliding toward us in an elegant dhow called Taqwa. Elena, and her three sons, all wore white. I sensed that the white they wore represented  the celebration of pure family love as well as a new beginning. Lars and Carol Korshen, proprietors of the legendary Peponi hotel, were the last to arrive after which the all boats were joined  together by hand forming what must have  looked from a distance like a floating market in a Bangkok klong. A Kenyan Christian pastor, though his fevered pitch went on for about five minutes too long, was the perfect segue to break the ice and introduce why were were joined together for the intimate celebration and mourn the passing of a man, who possessed the generosity if willfulness of a great king. After the sermon, a moving silence set in and seemed to lay to rest the small town petty-minded bickering and gossip even if for just one hour.

Claudio eulogized that the controversial Nanni was all too human in his determination ” to get it right”, to make the most of his autumn years. Even if it meant laying under water pipes from Shela to Manda to supply his Majlis hotel. Like it or not, the man managed to succeed in forging a lion’s paw-print in this area almost through sheer force of will.

One of Nanni’s three sons stood and presented a eulogy written by an old friend, who could not make the trip from Italy. The rest of the family sat quietly heads bowed in grief. One of the sons whom I knew but not well looked beautiful in his vulnerability.

Next to Elena sat a precious tiny wood and brass antique Zanzibar box. “Oh, what a cute purse,” I was about to say.

From a distance disco loud-speakers set inside a boat played “The Race of Bulls”. Over-sized kikapus (straw bags) full of pink red bougainvillea that the family had brought were passed around and every one had a chance to  toss a fistful of  flowers  into the sea along with Nanni’s ashes.

Like my own father, Nanni had the good fortune of eluding a protracted death in some anonymous anti-septic hospital. Nanni died “with his boots on”,  in the wilds of Africa. Not a bad place to die.

Later at Peponi, I asked Lars to sum up Nanni Moccia. Without hesitation, he said in his British drawl, “He was a serious old lion”.

I didn’t know Nanni well, and I’m not sure what that would even mean. He was always exceedingly polite to me.  Perhaps it was because he and I shared a curious common “cause” that only a few, including Elena, knew about.

It is to that end that I won’t soon forget what the good pastor said; that in many ways the dead are closer to us now than they ever were in life.