Tag Archives: Mombasa

Eid Baraza with the Governor of Mombasa

Link to published article, Kenya tourism tanks amid increasing violence

DRAFT of “Tourism and ‘Terrorism’ “– AJE

Mombasa July 28th, 2014

MOMBASA – It is the first evening of Islam’s Eid al Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan. Wealthy Mombasa residents – mainly of Arab descent – flock to Café Mocha, inside Cinemax Plaza, a gated mall in the suburb of Nyali. Women in sequined hijabs swan in with designer handbags slung on their arms. Almost everyone comes to the café to smoke fruit-flavored sheesha. The outdoor scene is as close as Kenya gets to Dubai, and plays like an Islamic version of the ‘70s film about the ‘50s, American Graffiti. Young men in Ray-Bans and headbands the colors of the Palestinian flag rev hotrods in the mall’s parking lot.

Less than five minutes away by car, Tamarind Village—which offers luxury rental apartments for tourists—is a virtual ghost town. At breakfast time, its dining room is empty.

But things have not been so quiet on the tourist beat.

A couple of weeks earlier in July a Russian tourist was shot dead near Mombasa’s Fort Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Police decided it was a robbery. Three weeks later assailants shot a German woman at point blank range from behind while she and her Ugandan travel companion were visiting the open market, also in Old Town. The woman died instantly and her friend sustained a bullet wound in the leg and survived.

Mombasa tourist murder
A German tourist was killed July, 24th, 2014 . (photo, courtesy of Facebook)













I wasn’t sure visiting Old Town by myself was such a good idea.

Emerging like an apparition from the Tamarind’s desolateness was a man in a crisp white robe and kofia – hat. I recognized him – Hassan Ali Joho, the Governor of Mombasa County. I mentioned I was a journalist in town and, eventually, about my wariness about venturing to Old Town.
“Don’t worry about security,” said the notably mellow 41-year old politician. “Please join me for Eid al Fitr Baraza celebration at the Treasury Square”.
Visiting Old Town that day doesn’t seem a good idea to me.
“Come,. I’ll send a car for you in one hour,” the Governor insisted.
So he did.
“Mohammed” (not his real name),  the governor’s personal driver, collected me in a white four-door Toyota around noon. We drove from the Nyali suburb across the creek bridge to Old Town on the island. Our vehicle was inconspicuous but the window’s weren’t tinted and I felt like a target. I assumed I wouldn’t bump into any other white women from North America at the Eid Baraza. I asked Mohammed where the two tourists had been shot dead. He explained that they’d been killed in the Byzantine alleys inside Old Town, far from the main road. He smiled when I wrapped my head wrapped in a hijab.
“Don’t worry, you’re safe,” said Mohammed. “You are with the governor.”
It was a holiday; shops were closed and the streets were more or less empty. The colonial-era Treasury Square with its faded colors is the traditional venue for Eid Baraza. All the buildings around the square are protected by the National Museums of Kenya. Still, I expected a mob scene – a riot – not unlike the melee I’d seen on the local news when police were arresting youths at a controversial mosque in the run-down section of Majengo. LINK What I found instead was a clean, well-organized, assembly of Mombasa residents of all ages seated in rows under white tents.
Nevertheless, I stuck close to Mohammed, who led me by hand through the crowd to the area where the Governor, the senators and other VIPs were sitting. I was then introduced to taller fellow, apparently one of the Governor’s body guards, who guided me to the opposite side of square where the media sat. Clearly, someone decided I didn’t belong there, so a third man held out his hand gently leading me to where the well-dressed VIP women sat.
As I made my way through the crowd, I glanced around for other ‘mzungus’, but far as I could tell I was the only one there. My presence drew stares, for sure, but I didn’t detect an iota of hostility. The only unruly guests were children in fancy dress playing behind their seated mothers. Armed security was everywhere, but they were in the employ of the county of Mombasa, not the state. In fact, I was more afraid of police arriving and randomly arresting and shooting people than I was of anyone attending the celebration. (I later learned the reason women are separated from men at most public gatherings is for the sake of security; should a husband and father be assassinated, the wife and mother will hopefully remain unharmed).
Though Eid celebrations are a religious event, they are sometimes criticized for focusing on politicians and their platforms. Security seemed a pressing and apt topic in Mombasa.
Most of the women in the VIP section were brassy, tough and yet appeared to command respect from their male counterparts. I didn’t understand all of what the politicians were saying but anytime the word “tourism” and “security” peppered a speech these women clapped and hooted “kweli!” – it’s the truth!  It was like being among a fleet of Oprahs and her fans.
Occasionally, I asked a lady seated next to me to identify a politician. One senator, she explained, was saying that in order to ensure peace and security husbands needed to stop chewing miraa (an herbal stimulant) on weekends and pay more attention to their wives and children. This resulted in particularly loud applause.
Mishi Mboko, the Mombasa County Women’s Representative,  is particularly vocal – to a fault, some feel. Just a month earlier police had accused her of “inciting violence and disobedience of the law” for saying, “Kenyans are going to bring revolution for this country. Enough is enough! Revolution and sovereignty are with the people.”
“There are two tribes that think they own the country,” she allegedly said, “and we want to tell them ‘chuma chao tunacho’“. The words, said police, were intended to incite ethnic contempt and hatred. Translated literally, the phrase means “your metal is on the fire”. Figuratively – and as addressed to the opposition – it may be interpreted as ‘we know what your plans are’ and, some argue, interpreted as a threat.
Governor Joho and Senator Hassan Omar escorted Mboko to court, where she denied all charges.
Before the celebration ended I left for my hotel.
The next evening I met the Governor at one of his two apartments at the Tamarind Village. It was meant to be a formal interview, however when I met him the long white robe had been replaced by a white Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt and a pair of madras Bermuda shorts. Of course, no politician is without his or her controversial baggage. He said it had been his first day back in the office after Eid celebrations. He was understandably tired and hungry. I decided not to get into anything off topic.
He ordered a Tamarind speciality, the Chocolate Explosion”, his favorite dessert, and instructed the waiter to return every five minutes with refills of sheesha (aka hookah) for us both. The waiter kept locking himself out of the apartment forcing the Governor to get up off the couch every five minutes.
For about two hours we discussed matters relating to security. Who was behind the Mpekatoni – Lamu County massacres? Was al-Shabaab acting alone? To which he replied, “Where was the money coming from?”
Eventually, the remarkably relaxed politician stretched out on the couch – and fell fast asleep.


wtmk Joho 1
Governor of Mombasa, Hassan Ali Joho, last to speak at Eid al Fitr Baraza Celebration. 2014


Big Mama Eid Baraza
On the side of the women at Eid al Fitr Baraza, Mombasa


Mishi Juma Mboko, Mombasa County Women’s Representative



Hassan Ali Joho, Governor of Mombasa
Hassan Ali Joho, Governor of Mombasa



"If you can dream it you can achieve it"
“If you can dream it you can achieve it” – the governor breaks fast at Tamarind Village


Old Mombasa
View of Old Mombasa from across the creek








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.”


Murder in Mombasa

Mombasa Police chief, Robert Kitur, confirmed to reporters that around 17.10 (5:10 pm) near the entrance of Mombasa’s Makiti market, three men – one armed with a pistol – appeared from a corner of a building and shot dead a 28-year old German woman, identified as Christine Testa, and a 33 year-old Ugandan male, who is now undergoing treatment at Coast General Hospital.
Nothing was stolen from either victim. The pair had arrived from Nairobi earlier today and had planned to stay in Mombasa for two days before heading north to tourist-town of Malindi.
This is the second tourist murder in Mombasa to occur this month. On July 6th a Russian woman was shot dead in Mombasa’s Old Town while sightseeing.
The incident occurs a little over a month after Al-Shebaab claimed responsibility for attacks on several villages in Lamu county that have left up to 100 slaughtered. Both Mpekatoni and Hindi, where the most killings occurred, are about 150 miles north of Mombasa.
Some speculate that the tourist murders were politically motivated.
Witnesses told police that they saw two men – one armed with a pistol – approach the couple by foot. Others seem to recall the armed attackers on a motor-bike.
Regardless of who may be behind the attacks, continued violence on the coast underscores Kenya’s glaring lack of security.
A Twitter site called Free Somalia Tweeted:
@Somalisuperman: Pic: #AlShabaab shot dead a female German #tourist in #Mombasa, #Kenya :-… http://t.co/fRaoDWdt4C




Death of a Mombasa Tycoon

Kenya’s death squads are back in action in the coastal holiday-destination city of Mombasa.
At 8:15 on Friday night the owner of the Modern Coach bus company was shot dead by ‘unknown assailants’ close to the Changamwe police station.
Shahid Bhutt, in his late fifties, had just picked up his son at Moi international airport and were on their way home when two private vehicles blocked the way. One car rear-ended Bhutt’s car while the other pulled in front.
Six to seven hooded gunmen reportedly got out their vehicles and approached  his car on foot, spraying the occupants with bullets at close range. Bhutt was killed instantly. His son is said to have been shot in the arm, but is reportedly in stable condition.
A member of Mombasa Muslim community, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me that Bhutt had a “long running row with the imams” at the controversial Sakina mosque. One imam in particular, Sheikh Mohamed Idris, had the backing of Kenya authorities when he identified Bhutt as one of the largest donors to the mosque.
So-called “controversial” mosques in the run-down suburb of Majengo are reputed hot-beds of radicalism and recruitment feeders for the Somali militant group, al-Shabaab.
Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported that Idris’s opposition wanted to change the mosque’s name from Sakina Jamia to Masjid Mujahedeen, “mosque of Islamist fighters”. According to the same source Bhutt had hired “thugs” (apparently not part of al-Shabaab) to evict Idris from the mosque. Mohamed Idris, considered a moderate, was assassinated on June 10th, his assassins alleged to be al-Shabaab sympathizers.
Shabaab sympathizers also suspected to have gunned down, Athmed Bakshwein, a 61-year old police reservist in broad daylight as he parked his car in front of a hardware store in his hometown of Malindi. Bakshwein was said to have played an important role in other terrorist cases. Flyers in Mombasa displaying Bakshwein’s bullet-ridden corpse called Bakshwein a traitor to Islam.
A month later, prominent preacher and self-confessed al-Shabaab recruiter, Abubakar Makaburi said to me in an interview that “all moderate imams are potential little Bakshweins”.
“Sheikh Idris was at the forefront in the fight against the radicalization of the youth, and therefore his death is a big blow to the country’s efforts to stop religious extremism,” Mombasa County Police Commissioner, Robert Kitur, said in a statement.
A local reporter in Mombasa told me he’d arrived at the murder scene and counted 32 bullet holes in Bhutt’s vehicle. Weapons were likely AK47s used to shoot Bhutt at close range, the reporter added.
The modus operandi seem to bear the hallmarks of an assassination carried out by Kenya’s Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) sharpshooters.
Sheikh Aboud Rogo and Abubakar “Makaburi” were both killed in separate drive-by shootings on the Mombasa highway.
Robbers and thugs often use motorcycles. In almost every cleric killing (there have been almost two dozen within the last two years) the assassins are driving Toyota Probox vans.
Bhutt had been in court on terror-related charges but recently out on bail.  Makaburi had won a lawsuit against Mombasa police and a settlement for approximately $7,000 just a week before “unidentified assailants” gunned him down in front of a prison courthouse on the outskirts of Mombasa.
However, police repeatedly deny involvement in any terror-related killings.
Mombasa County police commissioner, Robert Kitur, said police plan to launch an investigation into this latest killing, of Shahid Bhutt.
However, since assassinations of terror suspects are a form of justice aka “extrajudicial killings” an investigation is unlikely.
If the pattern persists Kenya can probably expect fresh attacks from al Shabaab in retaliation for this latest death.
Idris’s murder occurred just five days before the Mpekatoni massacre on Kenya’s north coast. Al Shabaab’s spokesman issued a statement claiming responsibility for the terror attack that left nearly up to 70 dead.
Mpekatoni village was the first of several small villages along Kenya’s north coast, where Shabaab killed non-Muslims.

For background into Kenya’s shadow wars, check out my In-depth, “Death Squads in Kenya’s Shadow War on Al-Shabaab Sympathizers” in my article for The Daily Beast.


Sheikh Mohamed Idris


Shahid Bhutt in Mombasa court on recent terror-related charges.
Shahid Bhutt’s bullet-ridden car (photo, Umar Babz Abdulaziz)