Entry of bodaboda’s threatens to edge out donkeys in old-town Lamu

A street in UNESCO listed Lamu old town. PHOTO/ FILE.

Lamu,KENYA:Donkey owners and cart pushers in Lamu  old-town have decried the ever growing number of boda boda operators that is in turn pushing them out of business.

Residents of the Lamu old town have for decades depended on donkeys for transport and movement of people and goods.

The town has also been listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site due to its rich culture and heritage.

However efforts to conserve and preserve the old town in the same breath as facing a serious threat as westernization slowly begins to take over.

Initially,automobiles had been banned by the county government from the town as a means of conserving its heritage and only donkeys and carts were allowed to operate.

A select few vehicles and motorbikes belonging to specific institutions were also the only ones allowed on the town.

However since August last year,the number of motorcycles and vehicles operating in the island has grown considerably bringing forth a thriving boda boda business.

Currently,donkeys and cart pushers are facing serious competition as boda boda’s now offer faster and cheaper transportation to tourists and locals in the town.

The donkey owners and cart pushers now say they have been out of business ever since boda boda operators began their trade in the town more than seven months ago.

At the moment,Lamu town has over 100 motorcycles and vehicles as they county government continues to turn a blind eye on the UNESCO rule that requires such elements not to exist in a place listed as UNESCO heritage site

The two aggrieved parties said their customers now rush and prefer to use boda bodas for transport and movement of goods leaving them high and dry.

“Customers have run away from us.They prefer motorcycles now.They say donkeys and carts are slow and time consuming.Its unfair because we are the only means of transport that should allowed here since this is a heritage site.Someone should do something and send them out before we are totally out of business,something we feel shall also affect the status of Lamu town as a heritage site,”said Maarufu Said.

The donkey and cart owners are also calling on the county government to form legislations that will ensure boda boda operators in the town only operate from select areas instead of being left to conduct their trade all over the town.

Lamu residents have also appealed to the county government to reinforce the ban on automobiles in the town with many arguing that the culture and heritage was not worth being sacrificed for any amount of money.

Bingwa Ahmed,an opinion leader in the town said the town’s streets are too narrow and the presence of automobiles was a disaster in waiting.

Ahmed also adds that the increased motorcycles was also causing too much traffic in the already crowded town.

“This is a town our forefathers made efforts to conserve and we should do the same.No amount of money should make us turn our backs on our culture and heritage.Automobiles have never and should never be allowed here.Its just a matter of time before UNESCO delists Lamu town if something isn’t done to change this situation.Also,too many motorcycles and vehicles are the perfect recipe for a disaster in a place with narrow streets like here,”said Ahmed.

A week ago,Lamu residents lauded the boda boda business saying it had reduced crime rates in the town by offering employment to hundreds of idle youth who would otherwise  have been engaging in drug use and crime.