Mombasa slums flirt with Covid-19 explosion

The care-free attitude among the slum dwellers is alarming

In Summary

• Youth crowd to play pool and hunt robbers without masks, social distancing

• A police officer trying to talk sense into them was attacked and had to flee

It’s 4.30pm, about two and half hours to the 7 o'clock curfew time. The expansive Kisumu Ndogo, Shauri Yako and Mnazi Mmoja slums of Nyali constituency are bustling with activities.

Characterised by insecurity, low-quality housing, lack of basic services and poor sanitation, these informal settlements might soon explode with Covid-19 infections.

The carefree attitude among the slum dwellers is alarming. In Kisumu Ndogo area, for instance, there are more than three pool table locations, where youth converge from morning to evening.


The games are not for leisure. It is purely business. Whoever wins takes home some money. On a good day, one can make up to Sh500.

A few weeks ago, a police officer caused a scuffle in the area, explains Rashid, a caretaker in one of the flats bordering the Kisumu Ndogo slum.

The plain-clothes police officer in a Toyota Ractis confronted the youth in one of the pool tables, demanding they observe social distancing or else the owner should close the place and everyone goes home.


It was around 6pm, an hour to curfew time.

The lone officer, armed with a rifle in his vehicle, tried to explain to the youth the harm they were exposing themselves to by not observing social distancing. Most did not have facemasks on.


After minutes of lecturing the youth on dangers of Covid-19, he moved forward to take away the balls from the pool table.

The agitated youth, perhaps with hopes of winning a game before the night falls, were not impressed. They shoved away the officer.


They first accused him of being an imposter, then a drunkard.

A crowd is milling at the scene. The police officer is caught in between the youth who want to beat him up for spoiling their game by trying to take away the balls from the pool table.

To get away from the melee, the officer runs to his vehicle. The windscreen of his car is hit by a stone as the youth charge towards him.

He needs to escape. He retrieves his rifle from the vehicle, shoots in the air and throws a teargas canister towards the youth.

The youth scamper for their lives as the officer speeds off.


Two weeks later, still within the same locality, an old man who does his business at Kongowea market is attacked and robbed by youth early morning, while going to the market.

He raises an alarm and a few boda boda riders arrive at the scene. One of them identifies some of the attackers and they vow to go after them. A hot pursuit begins to bring the attackers to justice.

After a few days, one of the youths who attacked the Kongowea traders is cornered by the boda boda riders. They frog-march him around the area to identify his colleagues.

“He said some of his colleagues were in Kongowea, Mkomani and Bamburi. He was frog-marched to Kongowea and Mkomani but did not find any of them,” says Steve, a boda boda rider.

They brought him back to Mnazi Mmoja, where his family stays.

“After push and pull, the boda boda riders started to rain blows on him. He was beaten to a pulp until he died. Police officers were called to the scene to pick the body,” Steve says.

However, during these two incidents, the residents of Mnazi Mmoja, Kisumu Ndogo and Shauri Yako were not observing social distancing.

The boda boda riders, for example, did not care about their health while frog-marching the robbery suspect.

The crowd that came to the scene did not observe social distancing, increasing the risk of infection.

There is also another problem of not adhering to government regulations of curfew in these slum areas.

At night, within the slums, business goes on as usual until police officers are seen patrolling the area.

The county government ordered the closure of hotels. However, in the slums, the makeshift eateries are still operational.

The waiters and clients do not observe hygiene measures, either.

Steve says a big percentage of slum residents do not have formal employment. They cannot sit at home to wait for donations from government, he says.

“Furthermore, if you do not have connections, you will not be given food,” he adds.

Most of the residents work in the neighbouring posh estates and beach hotels in the Nyali suburbs, which have been shut for months.

Nyali MP Mohammed Ali says, “At least 1,200 people have lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

On Monday, Ali launched a feeding programme for 5,000 vulnerable families in his constituency.

He said the food will be distributed in Sarajevo, Bombolulu, Matopeni, Zila la Ng’ombe, Maweni and Kwa Bulo.

“We will not be able to feed everyone. We are only targeting the most vulnerable,” he said.

About a month ago, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho launched a similar plan, targeting over 230,000 vulnerable people of the six constituencies: Nyali, Changamwe, Mvita, Jomvu, Likoni and Kisauni.

He tasked the Kenya Red Cross and the Civil Society Organisations to lead the initiative. The programme has reached over 35,000 families so far.

In phase 1, which is expected to end this week, the county is targeting to reach 50,000 families. The second phase will begin next week.


Kenya Red Cross Mombasa chairperson Mahmoud Noor said there is no clear picture yet of how the slums have been affected by the virus.

“We have not heard so many incidents, but this is because we have not had mass testing is these places. We have seen testing in Likoni and Mvita, and that is why we have seen cases being reported there,” Noor said.

He called for an awareness campaign among the residents on the dangers of Covid-19 before the number of cases spikes.

“It’s is only by God’s grace that we have not had incidents in these areas. However, they must observe social distancing and follow government directives,” he said.

On the evening of May 8, a 51-year-old house agent in Kongowea collapsed and died shortly after refusing to board a Covid-19 ambulance.

Kongowea is among the five wards of Nyali constituency. It also has a slum called Matopeni, next to largest Kongowea market.

Kayumba Rajab is said to have told neighbours he suspected he had the virus after presenting the Covid-19 symptoms, although he had been ailing before.

His elder brother Said Rajab, 53, said Kayumba had been having chest problems for years.

“He frequently had a cold, which would lead to chest pains that made it difficult for him to breath. He has been on treatment for years,” his brother said.

Kayumba is among the people who have died at home after presenting Covid-19 symptoms.

At least 25 people have succumbed to Covid-19 in Mombasa since the outbreak began.

Old Town, which was put under the cessation of movement orders following a spike in the cases, has reported nine deaths.

Mombasa's fatality rate stands at 7.9 per cent, and the infection rate is at 3.9 per cent, according to Mombasa county commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo.

In Likoni, which also has a big number of informal settlements, the county launched mass testing at the ferry crossing channel three weeks ago.

Edited by T Jalio

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