Transport paralyzed in Lamu as boda boda operators protest ban

Motorbikes of striking boda boda riders in Lamu,Boda Boda operators in Tana River have downed their tools to protest over what they term as harassment by police PHOTO NATASHA NEEMA

Lamu,KENYA:Boda boda operators in Lamu old town have protested a move to bar them from accessing and operating from inside the heritage town.

A few days ago,the County CEC for Tourism Dismas Mwasambu announced that all Boda boda operators who shall be found operating inside the Lamu Old town will now be arrested and charged.

The move is aimed at protecting the Old town as a heritage site.

Lamu old town was listed by Unesco as a World Heritage Site in 2001.

There has however been concerns over the rising trends of westernization in terms of architecture,dressing and trading that have attracted the concern of conservationists who feel the situation may result in the old twon being delisted as a heritage site.

The most recent is the booming boda boda business that has been taking place right in the heart of the old town bringing to a confusing halt the only traditional means of transport allowed in the town that is donkeys.

However a meeting convened by the County government of Lamu in coordination with stakeholders from the departments of tourism,trade and culture recently agreed that minimizing and restricting boda boda operations in the Lamu Archipelago would serve to preserve the old time while at the same time allowing the operators to pursue their livelihoods.

The town currently holds atleast 200 boda boda operators.

However on Tuesday,the boda boda operators brought businesses in the old town to standstill after they held demonstrations against the new directive saying its oppressive and meant to put them out of business.

The new directive requires that all boda bodas operate on the outskirts of the old town and stay out of the heart of the heritage town as has been the norm.

However the operators are now crying foul saying they have also been barred from operating inside the Shella Beach town which located less than three kilometers away from the old town.

The new directive does not hinge on Shella since the town is further on the outskirts of the old town.

Speaking during the demos which started in Lamu town all the way to Duduvila area in Shella,the boda boda operators accused a senior security official in the county of colluding with a section of tourists residing in Shella to frustrate them and stop them from accessing the town to do their business.

The Lamu Boda Boda Association spokesperson Mohamed Badi said in as much as they have already heeded to the new directive barring from entering the old town for the sake of heritage conservation,they were not in support of being barred from freely operating on the outskirts as they had been directed.

Badi said the move will kill the business since Lamu and Shella are the only towns on the island and that barring from accessing the two means they will have nowhere to pick or drop their passengers.

He said the move also contravenes a previous agreement between the operators and the county government.

“They told us to stay on the outskirts and that includes Shella.Now they tell us we cant even acess Shella too.Thats not what we agreed on initially.We wont let this matter rest until they allow us do business,”said Badi.

The operators also downed their tools on Tuesday forcing locals and visitors to go to their destinations without the leisure of the motorbikes as has become the norm.

They convened at the Duduvilla area where they closed the Lamu-Shella road using their motorbikes.

It took the intervention of police officers on the island who engaged the operators for over three hours for the standoff to be resolved.