Tag Archives: Lamu

Unintended Consequences: A Fitness App Reveals a Secret US Military Base in Kenya

Fitness tracking Strava App reveals outlines of secret US bases (because people jog around the perimeter) around the world and as well as potentially sensitive information about military personnel on active duty.

Here’s what US Forward Operating Base Camp Simba in Lamu County, Kenya looks like.

The long vertical line in red is Camp Simba’s runway recently expanded to accommodate Hercules C-130 transport planes.

(Don’t yet see signs of Al-Shabaab – KDF running around circles in the nearby Boni forest)

Geographical Doppelgänger 

Portugal hardly ever seems in the news. I never gave the little country next to Spain much thought. Recently, however, a writer friend of mine and his wife first told me about Algarve, a largely undiscovered coastal region of Portugal.

I haven’t seen refugees from North Africa or the Middle East yet. However, I guess you could say my British friends – born and bred “white Kenyans” – are refugees sorts. They’ve fled Kenya’s current violence and uncertain future to establish roots in Portugal’s peaceful pastures.

Along the coastline sand dunes harbor fishing villages. Clusters of simple white-washed buildings with over-lapping terraces resemble heaps of sugar cubes. One town, has earned the nicknamed the  “The Cubist town”. The odd thing is some of these villages resemble those along the Kenya coast – especially Lamu – but not a mosque in sight.

As a colonists the Portuguese were all over the place. They famously plundered most of East Africa in the 15th century.

The Atlantic sea divides Portugal from North Africa – just 700 miles between Portugal’s capital of Lisbon and Tangier in Morocco, roughly the distance between New York City and Charleston, South Carolina.

The Romans occupied Portugal followed by the “Arabic occupation” between the 8th and 13th centuries.

The “Christian Conquest” fixed all that a few centuries later, a crusade not unlike how onward Christian soldiers today appear to be “correcting” parts of Africa endowed with oil and minerals that happen to be Islamic. Churches were built where mosques once stood.

Local travel guides – propaganda lite – strenuously emphasize that while some buildings have a Moorish influence the style had nothing to do with the “Arabic occupation”. Rather it was consequence of more recent “migratory contacts” with territories in North Africa.  

Olhao, Algarve region, Portugal

Real gypsies!


Curfew in Paradise


I hadn’t been back to Lamu since early July, shortly after the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for massacring up to 60 people in villages on the mainland.

A businessman from a well Koen political family whom I’d met in Nairobi  for the first time recently winced when I told him I spend a lot of time in Lamu. I reminded him that the attacks took place in Mpekatoni on the mainland, not in Lamu town or anywhere on Lamu Island. He still looked at me like I was barking. Granted, Mpekatoni and Lamu Island aren’t exactly oceans apart; the distance between them is a little over 15 miles in total with only a few kilometers of water in between.

The region was only just recovering from an earlier mishap; in 2011 unknown assailants from Somalia kidnapped two tourists and murdered a third from beachfront hotels in the Lamu Archipelago. These abductions as well as of those of aid workers in Somalia and in northern Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp precipitated Kenya’s US-backed invasion of Somalia in October the same year.

Unfortunately for Lamu, Kiwayu and most recently Mpekatoni and the other towns where the various attacks took place fall within Lamu County, meaning that while not a drop of blood was spilled in or on Lamu town its main industry tourism has tanked all the same.

It couldn’t happen to a more beautiful area.

Lamu residents both European and local like to think that what happened at Mpekatoni as a mainland thing. Why? Because it’s a land issue.

Both Al Shabaab and the Kenya government would seem to have motives for getting rid of Muslims and to not care as much about the tourist industry as the security.

Yet people fail to call it a terrorist attack.

The distance between Lamu Island and Mpekatoni where the most deaths occurred.
No blood was spilled on the island police enforced a curfew there that has further crippled an already ailing tourist economy.  Authorities believe some of the Mpekatoni attackers may have been from Lamu town. Islanders say they feel the curfew is less security related and  more punitive measure aimed at vilifying the Muslim community.

Regardless, the island seemed as empty as I had found Mpekatoni shortly after the massacre.
A white Kenyan, tall with a pony-tail and a bushy white beard, has made Lamu island his home since the late 60’s. He said he’d never seen the usually popular tourist destination so dead – even after the 2011 tourist kidnappings. “This is a record”.

Not only is it strangling the economy but furthers labels the area a hotbed of insurgency – a “no go zone”.

“Why punish us when this happened on the mainland?,” ask some locals. While other residents have a ready answer. Some suggest that the arrest of Lamu elected governor Issa Timamy was an attempt by the current Jubilee administration to overthrow Timamy. Political instability, they feel, is a convenient tool for those in power with an interest in controlling an area with valuable land around the Lamu port.
Following the Mpekatoni attacks police imposed a 9pm-6am curfew on islanders.

Locals also report instances of theft during curfew hours. One section of the island went without power for more than 24 hours after 800 metres of power cable was stolen.
What’s most unfortunate for Lamu islanders is that massacre occurred in Mpekatoni a small town some thirty miles from Lamu town.

Mpekatoni – Hindi 

Mpekatoni is a small town in Lamu County on Kenya’s north coast. When initial reports came out of an attack that eventually left up to fifty dead, the international community thought it had occurred in or near Lamu Old Town on Lamu island.
Mpekatoni is in fact on the mainland about 30 kilometers by car from the tiny port town of Mokowe.
On Sunday I took a friend’s daughter back to secondary school in Mpekatoni and spent the rest of the day snooping around and talking to residents.

Unexpected beauty along the way.

Waterlilies on the road to Mpekatoni.

Carcass of a torched vehicle and wall art, Mpekatoni

Breeze View Hotel where nine people were murdered while watching the World Cup.

An Orma resident of Mpekatoni.

Who Rules the Night? Notes on the Lamu security meeting

A security meeting was held in Lamu town yesterday attended by the new Lamu County Commissioner, Mirii Njenga, the County Chief of Security, various hoteliers and frightened residents. Local and foreign media were also present.
Kenya’s armed forces have reportedly secured Mpekatoni and other villages on the mainland. The only thing that seems certain so far is that the attacks occur at night and most people are now sleeping in the bush. During the day life has more or less returned to normal.
However residents on Lamu island say they are concerned for their safety.
Flyers (allegedly from Al-Shebaab threatening non-Muslims) posted in Lamu town on Monday caused what one resident called  “a mass exodus”. Hotel staff government staff and their families are still fleeing the island. Seats on matatus out of Mokowe have been difficult to come by.
In attempt to dispel incendiary rumors causing panic, stakeholders pressed county leaders for facts and plans for immediate security measures.

1. Who were/are the attackers?

2. Where is the threat coming from?

3.  Is there security in (nearby) Shela? Is there really any reliable on-the-ground security in Lamu and Shela?

Hoteliers say they cannot sustain paying for pricey private security to patrol beaches.

4. Is there a hot line to call someone in case of a problem?

5. How rapid is the rapid response?

6. Do police have working phones and chargers?

7. Is there fuel in police patrol boats?

8. After the 2011 kidnappings the government assured stakeholders of increased security.
That never happened.
“Why should we believe anything will be different this time?”

9. Who have you arrested?

10. What is the source of the Al Shabab flyers posted the Lamu town square.


Commissioner Njenga assured attendees that the Lamu County attacks “were a very temporary setback”.
While stakeholders were grateful for the meeting, the commissioner seemed less confident on how to answer the security questions than about sending a clear message to the attackers.
“The attackers were using heavy guns, but the strength of the attacking forces are minimum and not as great as those of the government.
“The hunter is now the hunted…they’re on the run, we want to finish them. They don’t belong here. We are going to handle them the way we know best.”
There was discussion of need for a website for Lamu county.
He admitted there was a lapse in security, he said, but the officers were sent home.
Lapse security and officers sent home.
He said he had no idea where these heavy guns come from.
“There is no cause for alarm or to run away. We either arrest them (the attackers) or gun them down.”
Hospitals – including King Fadhi – on the island are functioning and staffed.
Hotline numbers are expected today (Friday).
When asked why it always seems to take several hours for police to respond to crises, he said laughing nervously, we must approach this pole-pole (slowly). ”
Finally he said the attacks are unlikely to occur within Lamu island.
The origin of the flyer is still being investigated, be said, but it’s authenticity is suspicious. Could be town hooligans unrelated to attacks on mainland.
“We are still investigating, but these funny characters have nothing to with al-Shabaab,’ he said.
“This [the mainland attacks themselves] was a contract hiring of professional murderers within Lamu county. We know it may be more than one issue behind the attacks. Outside and internal groups are behind this.”20140711-135830-50310903.jpg