Mombasa County, investor row could hurt tourism, health sectors

On average, Mombasa Cement uses about Sh2m daily on hospital, mortuary bills for poor families

In Summary
  • Tourism industry player at the Coast Sam Ikwaye told the Star the move could affect the perception of Mombasa.
  • Tourism, like politics, has a lot to do with perception and when that perception is affected, the industry will be affected, Ikwaye said.
The Makupa roundabout that was re-modeled by Mombasa Cement.
The Makupa roundabout that was re-modeled by Mombasa Cement.
Image: FILE

Since December 2021, driving into Mombasa Island through the Makupa Causeway, especially at night, has been eye-catching.

As you drive into the island, you are welcomed by the sight of the rehabilitated Makupa roundabout, which quickly became a tourist attraction.

The re-modeled roundabout is dotted with huge bronze statues of elephants and a variety of flowers, mostly the desert rose.

“It was designed to depict Kenya’s wildlife, flora and fauna,” Imtiaz Sayani said in December 2021.

He is an officer at the Mombasa Cement Company, which is behind the beautification of the Makupa roundabout, and five others including the ones at Pandya, Lebanon, Markiti, Mombasa port entrance and outside the Mombasa Sports Club in Ganjoni.

Different statues representing different wildlife and marine animals line up the roundabouts.

Some of the roundabouts like the Makupa one, are also fitted with solar panels to light them up at night, illuminating the night sky and representing the Mombasa night life.

“We want to enhance the aesthetic value of Mombasa,” Sayani said.

Apart from the wild animals, statues of camels are also fitted near the Mombasa Sports Club in Ganjoni.

At the Makupa roundabout, the biggest of the six, Voi stones line up the edges.

Apart from enhancing the beauty of the roundabout, the Voi stones are also meant to depict the nature of the Mombasa people.

“The stones are smooth and welcoming when you look at them. This represents the welcoming nature of Mombasa people,” Sayani said.

The desert roses, among other flowers, which are locally sourced, represent the beautiful nature of Mombasa people.

The bronze statues are sourced from Nairobi, and each costs about Sh1.2 million.

Every Saturday, about 20 people are employed to clean them.

Special Maasai statues are also fitted to bring out the warrior culture of the community.

Another team has also been employed to guard the roundabouts from vandals.

“Each roundabout has a security team of four people, who work in pairs on day and night shifts,” Sayani said.

The beautification project not only cost around Sh72 million, but also provided employment for and business opportunities for different people.

Sayani said the beautification was inspired by Mombasa’s effort to become the best tourism hub in Africa and the huge elephant statues depict the huge economy that Mombasa is and wants to become.

But all this could change following a row between the county government and the investor — Mombasa Cement Company.

Tourism industry player at the Coast Sam Ikwaye told the Star the move could affect the perception of Mombasa.

Tourism, like politics, has a lot to do with perception and when that perception is affected, the the industry will be affected, Ikwaye said.

“We have been happy with the beautification. But if that is removed, it will bring back the old perception of a dirty Mombasa and investors could run away,” Ikwaye said.

He called on the two parties to find an amicable solution to arrest the situation.

“Other investors or potential investors are watching. They may decide to hold back,” Ikwaye, who is the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers executive officer, said.

On Wednesday, the huge bronze elephant statues started being transported from the Makupa roundabout destined for the Malindi roundabout in Kilifi county where Governor Gideon Mung’aro has welcomed them.

But why are they being moved?

“Mombasa has no water for the animals. So we are taking them to Kilifi county where there is water," Sayani said.

He refused to expound his statement but observers see this as salient message to Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir that his services could as well benefit people from other counties.

For the last one month, there has been a stand-off between Mombasa Cement Company and Mombasa county government.

This is after the county, through health executive Swabah Ahmed, on April 20, issued an internal memo to the chief officers of medical services and public health departments, and the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital CEO, stopping them from receiving any form of donation or aid from anywhere.

“This is to bring to your attention that no donation or financial support should be sought or allowed to be given to any of our health facilities. This is a directive from the Executive,” said Ahmed in the letter.

Musa Otieno alias China, a coffin dealer outside the CGTRH, said since Mombasa Cement was stopped from paying bills for the less fortunate, his business has taken a hit.

“When families are bereaved, they contribute money for the funeral. The money they collect, they usually buy at least a decent coffin for their departed loved ones because Mombasa Cement used to lighten their burden,” Otieno said.

Now, he said, the high and average cost coffins have stalled.  

Several political leaders including East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Hassan Omar, Nominated Senator Miraj Abdalla and former Kisauni MP Ali Mbogo have all criticised Nassir for his move.

On Wednesday evening, Governor Nassir said he has no personal or any other kind of differences with Mombasa Cement owner Hasmukh Patel.

He even denied there is a rift between the county and the philanthropist or his company.

Speaking during a question and answer session with several radio stations in his office Wednesday, the governor said he is only streamlining services at the health facilities.

“No one is mad to stop someone from being helped. What we did, and that was a cabinet decision, is if anything to do with aid is needed, it should be in a proper way. No one said so and so cannot pay someone else’s bill. No one,” Nassir said.

He insisted that there has to be some discipline and order in the way county health facilities receive donations.

On average, Mombasa Cement Company uses about Sh2 million daily on hospital and mortuary bills for poor families that cannot afford to pay.

Nassir acknowledged that the decision he made will hurt some people but insisted that he cannot run an entity without discipline and organisation.

“On that we will not relent. We will have order. We are aware that this will see some people hurt,” he said.

Using an example of a radio station, the governor said it will be chaotic and counterproductive if there will be no discipline and order in donations.

“How can it be that in a radio station, the production department goes to a well-wisher and asks for a microphone, then the editorial department goes to another well-wisher, yet the station MD does not know?” posed Nassir.

And as a solution, Nassir said they have put in place a mechanism where the CGTRH will be receiving Sh6 million every month to try and bridge the gap that the Mombasa Cement have left.

A committee will be formed to look into this and the committee will be giving weekly reports of those who benefit from the Sh6 million kitty.

Mombasa Cement had stationed officers at the hospital to verify the bills that are brought to them by people before they pay and keep the receipts for accountability purposes.

On Wednesday, Nassir  said the decision to start relocating the elephant statues that Mombasa Cement has taken is a personal decision that he has no control over.

“If someone has decided on their own volition to do that, they could be having their own reasons. There are those who will amplify the matter, they can as well do that.”.

No one said the beautification should be removed, he said, adding that he has directed the transport department architects to look at the situation of the whole county, and figure out how to beautify the roundabouts.

“I will leave this county beautiful so we can boast of our own. No one has been forced to remove any beautification,” Nassir said.

On Wednesday, Tudor MCA Samir Bhaloo acknowledged there are differences between Mombasa Cement and the Mombasa county government but was quick to add that the small differences cannot stop them from working with the county government.

Mombasa Cement's Imtiaz Sayani and Tudor MCA Samir Bhaloo at the Makupa roundabout on Wednesday.
Mombasa Cement's Imtiaz Sayani and Tudor MCA Samir Bhaloo at the Makupa roundabout on Wednesday.
Image: FILE
WATCH: The latest videos from the Star