The changing face of Mombasa and why it has met resistance

An Ariel view of Mombasa's CBD, with some buildings painted white and blue. /PILI CHIMERA
An Ariel view of Mombasa's CBD, with some buildings painted white and blue. /PILI CHIMERA

Until a court order threw a spanner in the works on Thursday last week, Mombasa was sprucing up its drab and faded buildings in the CBD with a bright and uniform sea-like hue to increase the coastal city’s appeal to tourists.

The CBD’s last beautification was in 2013, which involved tree planting and pavement renovation at county expense. But this time, the county pressed building owners to play their part in rejuvenating the tourism hub.

The same way schools countrywide were ordered to paint their buses yellow, Mombasa ordered owners of all residential and commercial premises in the CBD to paint them

white and blue, a colour theme seemingly inspired by Santorini island, Greece, a world-famous tourist destination.

“The buildings should be in white with Egyptian blue border on the edges and windows above without any sign written on the wall or canopy,” Public Works executive Tawfiq Balala said on March 9,

adding that owners should also clean walkways of their premises.


The directive came two weeks after the county engaged residents in a public forum on the implementation of the policy.

It gave

owners 14 days to prepare for painting and 30 days from start of the directive to complete.

Initial resistance melted away as the county threatened those defying the order with legal action.

But the High Court temporarily suspended the directive following a complaint by Best Lady Cosmetics shop.

Justice Eric Ogola issued the orders after the county failed to respond to an application by the shop.

“We have been in business for over 15 years and all the materials in shops trade in pink, which we use in all our branches,” the shop said in its application.

But already, the ambitious plan has left sections of the city looking new and improved.

The colours were selected as a representation of the ocean, which is the coastal heritage and brings out the cultural feeling and coolness while in the city.

And to complement the coloured buildings, the county is putting cabros on roads and along footpaths inside the CBD.

The cabros will also be uniform in colour —


The county has selected five roads for the cabros project in the CBD as a pilot project, and it aims to cover the whole of Mombasa in the next five years. Most have already been laid as old ones are replaced.

“You will agree that this will be a great boost to tourism,” Balala said.

But as the deadline reached, most buildings had not yet complied with the order. And it remains to be seen how the beautification will change the image of a county still grappling with a garbage menace.


Inspecting the restoration process, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho said the county

will follow up on non-compliant buildings and ensure they get the correct colour.

“We will put a cash penalty that will be increasing every month that will be linked to your land rates for single business permits,” he said.

Joho told residents to take the initiative rather than waiting for the government to transform the county.

“You have always been asking what the government is doing for you, but have you ever asked what you have done for the community and the government?” he asked.

He said the restoration process will be extended once they are done with the CBD.

“We will go to the suburbs and it may be different. We might go to Kisauni and decide it will be a different colour. And this is a conversation we will have with Mombasa residents so we can come up with a solution on what we will do,” he said.

Joho said they would also be impounding vehicles found parking on pavements and charging the owners.

“We can charge you Sh10,000 a day and that is a law that is being processed here in Mombasa. Pavements and walkways are for ordinary citizens to walk freely around the CBD,” the governor said.

As of last week, while some owners had already painted their buildings, others were working hard to comply and escape punishment.

One thorny issue is the fact that they are supposed to dig into their pockets to buy the paint and pay for the labourers to do the job.

Not a shilling was given to the owners to repaint their buildings, as the county is only funding the cabros.

County communication director Richard Chacha said though a deadline was issued, they will be considerate and not harass owners.

“People have requested for more time. The number of those who have not complied is big,” he said.

Balala, however, promised that an inspection would be done and those building owners who had not yet complied would be charged in court.

He also said they were given plenty of time to ensure they comply, and if they have not, then it is just ignorance.

“They had plenty of time because the notice was given in March,” he said.


The beautification has been a boon to youths being contracted on painting jobs.

Going around town, you would see them busy at work.

Painter Jeremy Kioko termed it a great opportunity for him to get instant cash for his sweat. Since the order was given in March, he has gotten orders to paint different buildings.

“Since it is mandatory for all the buildings to be painted, I have received different orders from different people that I go to paint for them. After I finish painting this building, I already have orders to paint other buildings somewhere else,” Kioko said.


Julian Magoma, an engineering student at Technical University of Mombasa, has also benefited from this beautification.

She has got an internship from the cabros project, where she is a supervisor.

“This project has helped youths, including me, because they have got jobs,” she said.

Youths are being engaged in the two-month cabros project, and 25-40 youths are being recruited every day.

They make Sh600-Sh1,000 per day, Magoma said.

She said by the time the internship is over, she would have gained a lot of experience, and if it were not for the project, she may have struggled to get an internship.


While some residents think it is a good initiative, others criticised it.

Laurent Asante said it is definitely a good initiative. He said many buildings in the CBD had neglected their buildings to the extent they were an eyesore in the town.

“I support it fully because there are buildings which had faded and they were not even bothering to paint them. They were not even fit to be in town. Buildings in town should be appealing,” he said.

However, he thinks it was not fair for companies to be forced to paint white and blue.


“They should have allowed companies to paint their own corporate colours for fast identification,” Asante


He said it is totally correct for non-compliant companies to be charged, saying they can afford to paint their houses. “They collect rents every month. Therefore, it would not be hard for them to budget for the painting,” Asante said.

Fellow resident Dahabo Yasmin said the beautification will boost tourism 100 per cent.

“It will be attractive. It will show oneness and uniformity,” she said.

Nsina Salim thinks it is just a waste of people’s time and money.

“If the county government wants to boost tourism, it should have paid for the cost of painting all the buildings, instead of wasting people’s time with their businesses,” she said.

Rukia Mohamed faulted the government for not consulting widely.

“I think the county government only puts emphasis on tourism, but they do not consider the views of the people who would be affected, and I think it was not fair,” she said.