Boda boda operators banned in Lamu after Unesco delisting threat

A Unesco message is inscribed on the main gate into Lamu old town.
A Unesco message is inscribed on the main gate into Lamu old town.

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 town 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 on Thursday 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 at least 200 boda boda operators.

Speaking in Lamu town on Thursday, County Tourism Executive Member Dismas Mwasambu said the operators will only be allowed to operate on the outskirts of the old town and not all over as has previously been the norm.

The old town is made of small alleyways that only allow movement by donkeys and foot.

Motorcycles had however defied all norms and had been squeezing through the alleyways to ferry cargo and people, a situation that saw human traffic in the tiny island grow considerably.

In 2015,former Lamu governor Issa Timamy banned automobiles from the old town save for the Lamu hospital ambulance, a fire engine,the county garbage collection tractor,the county commissioner’s official GK vehicle and motorcycles belonging to the Ministry of Public Health, water board and Kenya Power and Lighting Company-KPLC offices and that of the county government.

Mwasambu says the new directive is already in force and all those who defy will not just face prosecution but will also have their motorcycles confiscated.

“We shall have heavy fines, arrests and prosecutions for defectors. We shall also revoke licences and confiscate bikes of those who won't respect the new directive. At the end of the day, the old town matters and it will be a shame if we don’t do anything and have it delisted,” said Mwasambu.

He also revealed that plans are in the pipeline to develop a special ring road to enable the boda-boda operators to access the old without causing traffic and danger to foot goers.

The meeting also saw the birth of a special Seafront Management Committee tasked with beautification, cleanliness and preservation of the Lamu Old town seafront that is currently littered with kiosks and hawkers, contrary to the Unesco directives of a heritage site.

The National Museums of Kenya-NMK Director for Antiques, Sites and Monuments at the Coast region Athman Hussein said the state of the old town losing its Unesco status was still high until serious measures are instituted and adapted.

He said for decades, the unique culture and heritage of the Lamu people has been the greatest tourist attraction in the region but that too much westernization was now doing the region a great disfavour.