THREAT TO COVETED TITLE

Entry of tuk-tuks threatens Lamu Old Town world heritage site status

The three-wheelers are now competing for passengers with boda-bodas

In Summary
  • Unesco listed the Old Town as a world heritage site in 2001 due to its well preserved Swahili culture and decades-old heritage.
  • A world heritage site is required to maintain its originality and resist any form of westernisation, especially architecture, culture and heritage.

 

Lamu's Old Town is likely to lose its Unesco world heritage site status after the introduction of tuk tuk transporters in the area last month.

The tuk-tuks are now competing for passengers with boda-bodas.

Other negative factors that might lead to its delisting as a world heritage site include the westernisation which threatened the unique culture of the old town.

Unesco listed the Old Town as a world heritage site in 2001 due to its well preserved Swahili culture and decades-old heritage.

The old town has more than 200 boda-boda operators and about 10 tuk-tuks. More three-wheelers are expected this year.

The National Museums of Kenya Lamu office and tourism stakeholders have raised concern over the situation.

A world heritage site is required to maintain its originality and resist any form of westernisation, especially architecture, culture and heritage.

The streets of Old Town only allow donkey and human traffic. The introduction of motorcycles and tuk-tuks has not only worsened human traffic but also eroded the traditional way of life.

Principal curator in charge of National Monuments and Lamu World Heritage site Mohamed Mwenje said on Wednesday that the motorised transport mode posed a serious hindrance towards the preservation of Lamu as a heritage site.

Mwenje called on the county government to remove the bikes and three-wheelers from the site.

“The town’s originality continues to disappear each day.  The town might lose its title as a world heritage site. Something needs to be done before all this happens,” he said.

Former Lamu Tourism Board chairperson Ghalib Alwy said the situation was heavily weighing down tourism as many people kept away, opting to visit more interesting coastal destinations like Watamu and Kilifi.

A weekend meeting of stakeholders resolved that boda-boda operators tuk-tuk operations should be confined to the outskirts of the town with designated pick-up points at Milano and donkey sanctuary areas.