Security tightened in Lamu as Lamu festival kicks off

Police officers patrolling the streets of Lamu on Thursday PHOTO NATASHA NEMA

Lamu,KENYA:This year’s 17th edition of the annual Lamu Cultural Festival has kicked off on a high note on the Lamu old town with residents and visitors getting a rare opportunity to freely interact and witness the magical lifestyle of the Swahili communities in Lamu.

The four day fete runs from November 16 to 19.

The Lamu Cultural Festival is an annual event which is celebrated to showcase the rich culture and heritage of Lamu’s Swahili people that has captivated the world for centuries.

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.

This year’s cultural theme is ‘Peace and Cohesion’ which was coined following the intense political situation the country has witnessed in recent times.

Tourism and trade stakeholders in the County are already upbeat and optimistic that the sectors will be boosted by the event.

Many are of the opinion that this year’s cultural fete will be a tester to determine whether tourists have regained confidence to visit the region that has been marred with insecurity challenges caused by frequent Alshabaab attacks that have left scores of security officers and civilians dead.

Lamu’s tourism was badly hit in 2014 and 2015 due to the threats of terrorism and introduction of travel restrictions by some foreign countries to its citizens following the killing of over 100 people by Al-Shabaab militants in June, 2014 in Mpeketoni and its environs.

This prompted the national government to launch a multi-agency security operation in September 2015 whose major aim was to flush out the Al-Shabaab’s elite group Jaysh Al-Ayman said to be hiding within the Boni forest.

This year’s event has witnessed a minimal number of guests compared to previous years with many attributing the minimal turnout to the political climate in the country and insecurity issues in Lamu.

Despite everything,local tourists didn’t disappoint with many thronging various parts of the town to celebrate the festival.

Traders who have come from all over Lamu including ,Manda,Kizingitini,Mkokoni  Mpeketoni,Faza,Hindi,Mokowe and far flung islands are also upbeat that this year’s event will reap them profits.

Traders and business people have acknowledged that they sell more wares within the four day fete than they would ever have sold in a whole month and as such many are looking forward to good tidings.

Hotel owners in Lamu town who say business has been bad since the year started are now optimistic that the four days of the cultural festival will bring in good tidings with many hotels already full and out of bookings.

Proprietor of the prestigious Sun Sail Hotel on the Lamu town sea front Ali Bunu said only 20% of rooms at his hotel have been occupied since the year started but that due to the festival,the hotel was fully booked and as such he expected better profits at the end of the four day festival.

“We are looking forward to some good profit margins.All my rooms are fully booked and infact I had to turn away hordes of other guests.Many hotels too are full and that’s a sure sign that things are lloking up,”said Bunu.