Political climate affecting Lamu cultural festival preparations

A promotional banner of the festival last year outside Lamu old town where the festival is scheduled to be held PHOTO NATASHA NEMA

Lamu,KENYA:The political animosity being experienced in the country at the moment could definitely affect this year’s 17th edition of the Lamu Cultural Festival which kicks off on Thursday this week.

Organizers of the festival have said this year’s event has witnessed a minimal number of individuals and organizations willing to sponsor unlike the previous festivals which had sponsors battling for space on the sponsorship list.

The festival runs from November 16 to 19 and will take place on the Lamu old town which is also listed as a world heritage site.

Lamu cultural promotional group secretary general Feiswal Miji said their initial budget for this year’s event was at Sh.8.6 Million but that so far,with only days left to the start of the festival,they only have recived less than half of that amount.

Speaking in Lamu on Tuesday,Miji said most of the challenges facing this year’s cultural festival are majorly because of the political air being witnessed in Kenya at the moment.

He said majority of their big sponsors for the annual event are foreign firms,many of which haven’t turned up this time around all thanks to the unpredictability of the political climate currently.

He said the few sponsors who had turned up to finance the event have offered minimal support unlike in previous years where they would surpass the budgetary limit.

The situation might also lead to a low turnout of tourists and visitors who turn up to witness and take part in the annual festival.

“The political situation will play a major role in how things turn out in this year’s event.We have already witnessed a low number of sponsors willing to fund the event and even then,the amount of funding is way below the budget we had made of Sh.8.6 Million.We don’t even have half of that amount.Normally by now,we usually have exceeded the budget.We could be talking Sh.10 Million plus but this time round things are bad but we are hopeful the festival will be successful.This is how bad politics can be,”said Miji.

Lamu deputy governor Abdulhakim Aboud said the number of foreign tourists who love to come down for the festival could dwindle this year due to the political situation that has scared off many.

Speaking in his office on Tuesday,Aboud was however upbeat that with the final touches being put in place,the festival will turn out successful.

“As a county we are trying to pull in some sponsors so that we finish up the last touches but so far we are good to go.We are however pensive that the number of visitors could be lower than we have ever had since the inception of this festival due to the current political climate.The situation is unpredictable thus making many tourists decided to keep away from Kenya altogether.Bjt we know irrespective of challenges that face any process,the festival will turn out just fine.We already have visitors flocking in.Things are not looking that dim,”said Aboud.

Lamu Cultural Promotional Group chairperson Ghalib Alwy said they had not met the required threshold in as far as budgeting for the festival was concerned but added that the plans were still on track anyway.

Lamu county commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo has assured travelers coming to Lamu by road for the festivities of adequate security.

Kitiyo said adequate security measures have been taken to ensure the roads and entire festival are well guarded.

He said travelers and visitors have nothing to worry about adding that all vehicles will be accorded police escort.

“We have made adequate security measures and as far as we are concerned,we are good to go.No one has any reason to be concerned.All vehicles will receive police escort.Visitors and tourists will be safe,”said Kitiyo.

The Lamu Cultural Festival is the largest event known worldwide and that is held annually in the historical town which is also listed as a UNESCO World heritage site.

The festival presents a rare opportunity to see traditional dances,the famous donkey race, dhow races, Swimming competition, heena painting and cultural display of the Swahili people well known for the accomplishment of craftsmen and women, traditional skills including wood carving from the county in a single venue with the fast paced donkey race competition attracting hundreds of spectators.