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December 14, 2018

Boda bodas fight order to leave Old Town

Some of the abandoned motorcycles yesterday as boda boda operators protested against a directive barring them from Old Town in Lamu /CHETI PRAXIDES
Some of the abandoned motorcycles yesterday as boda boda operators protested against a directive barring them from Old Town in Lamu /CHETI PRAXIDES

Boda boda operators in Lamu Old Town have protested against being barred from accessing and operating from the heritage town.

A few days ago, Tourism executive Dismas Mwasambu announced that all operators found operating from the Old Town will be arrested and charged.

The county wants to protect the town, which was listed by Unesco as a world heritage site in 2001.

Conservationists are, however, concerned that trends in architecture, dressing and trade may result in the town being delisted as a heritage site.

The booming boda boda business at the heart of the town has almost paralysed the only traditional means of transport in the town —  donkeys.

To save the town, the county government convened a meeting in coordination with stakeholders from the departments of tourism, trade and culture.

The meeting agreed that minimising and restricting boda boda operations in the Lamu archipelago would preserve the Old Town while allowing the operators to earn a livelihood.

The town currently has at least 200 boda boda operators.

Yesterday, the operators brought businesses in the town to a standstill as they demonstrated against the new directive. They said it is oppressive and meant to drive them out of business.

The operators said they have also been barred from operating inside the Shella Beach town, which is less than three kilometres from the Old Town.

The new directive does not affect Shella as the town is on the outskirts of the Old Town.

The operators demonstrated from Lamu town all the way to Duduvila area in Shella.

They accused a senior county security official of colluding with a section of tourists residing in Shella to frustrate them and stop them from accessing the town.

The Lamu Boda Boda Association spokesperson, Mohamed Badi, said inasmuch as they have heeded the new directive, it is wrong to bar them from freely operating on the outskirts of the town.

He said driving them away will kill the business as Lamu and Shella are the only towns on the island. Badi said they will have nowhere to pick or drop their passengers.

He said the new development also contravenes a previous agreement between them and the county government.

“They told us to stay on the outskirts and that includes Shella. Now they tell us we can't access Shella too. That is not what we agreed on initially. We wont let this matter rest until they allow us do business,” Badi said.

The operators convened at Duduvilla, where they closed the Lamu-Shella road with their motorbikes.

It took the intervention of police officers, who engaged the operators for more than three hours for the standoff to be resolved.

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