SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP

How traders reap from the beach in Mombasa

Residents rely on tourists to earn an honest living

In Summary

• Enterprising locals guard swimmer's goods, captain boat rides and sell food, wares

• Business is low due to Covid, while absence of public toilets and lifesavers worry them

A clothes and shoes stall run by Wanjiku Ng'ang'a (Right) at Mombasa Beach, seen here with a friend
A clothes and shoes stall run by Wanjiku Ng'ang'a (Right) at Mombasa Beach, seen here with a friend
Image: STEVE MOKAYA

The breezy beaches of Mombasa are craved for by visitors and residents in equal measure, albeit for different reasons.

While tourists visit the sandy beaches to unwind and cool their busy minds and schedules, locals use every possible opportunity to make a living out of the visitors.

It is this symbiotic relationship that has sustained some of the otherwise unemployed coastal folk and seen their children through school.

A few metres down the entrance to Mombasa beach in Nyali are parked cars and motorbikes. Ear-piercing music booms out of the parked bikes and cars.

People stream in, down to the vast blue waters that are the Indian Ocean. Youngsters walk down, laughing at every joke as if celebrating the reprieve that comes with the beaches.

On the other hand, the elderly, perhaps the age of the youths' parents, saunter by calmly and talking in low tones, as though to make a clear demarcation between boys and men, girls and women.

Either way, both groups are here to have fun. It is a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Next to the gateway to the beach sits a dark, hunky man. He is chewing something that could be miraa as he gazes into the horizon.

His sunglasses and a black bandana on his head cast the figure of a no-nonsense man. His name is James Kahindi. He hails from the nearby Kisimani area.

"I am the chief security person on this beach. No one appointed me, though," he says.

Security guard and boat captain James Kahindi
Security guard and boat captain James Kahindi
Image: STEVE MOKAYA

BOAT CAPTAIN

Kahindi is in charge of parked motorbikes and the general security of the beach. He says he offers his services for free, though his body language and voice suggest otherwise.

"In the past, parked cars and motorbikes used to be vandalised until it reached a time I decided to come in to help," he says.

"Nowadays there is peace and no one has ever complained about theft or vandalism of their cars or bikes."

Kahindi is a boat captain for hire. He says he is hired by tourists to take them for deep-sea voyages. He also practises deep-sea fishing when his voyage duties are low.

"I realised that there is a huge business gap in this beach, where I could make an extra coin and help others to make a living as well," he says.

"I usually do voyages in the morning when the tides are low. In the afternoon, I am free. So I decided to clean up this place and put up stalls for hire," he says.

Thus, he put up stalls made of makuti, which he has rented out to local women to do business. He says they pay him every day.

A customer buys viazi karai at Mombasa beach
A customer buys viazi karai at Mombasa beach
Image: STEVE MOKAYA

DEATHS, LACK OF TOILETS

Kahindi has seen a certain problem at this beach for as long as he can remember.

"This beach is so big yet it doesn't have a single public toilet. And access to the hotels is sealed off from members of the public," he says.

"Besides, this beach has no single life-saving boat. I have encountered dead bodies a number of times in the morning."

He says the government brings life-savers and divers during holidays such as Christmas only. "The rest of the days, novice swimmers die at sea, yet we're here. We can be given the job by the government."

Salma Abdalla is one of the tenants of Kahindi's stalls. The Bamburi resident says this stall has been her business springboard.

"I am grateful for these stalls. They enable me to do my business, which has sustained me and my family. For example, I was able to take my child to Form 1 from the savings of this work," she says.

Salma sells Swahili dishes at the beach. She majors in making and selling viazi karai, which is a favourite meal at the Coast. She also sells chapati and cakes.

"I come here every day from six at dawn to six at dusk to do business. Weekends are the best days for me as I get many customers," she says.

Elsewhere at Nyali beach, a group of 21 youths has set up a clothes and chairs business. The group, Nyali Tube Renters, has swimming costumes for men and women. Moses Kamau is the group's secretary.

"We buy these costumes and bring them here every day. We lend them out to people. They pay Sh50 for a costume. After they have been used, we wash and dry them and lend them out again," he says.

"In addition, we also lend plastic chairs for those who don't want to sit on the sand. A chair goes for 20 bob," he says.

Besides that, the group stores property for the people who want to go swimming. They keep things such as bags, phones and clothes. Each person pays Sh100 for the safety of their things.

Maasai Restaurant manager Josephat Iha
Maasai Restaurant manager Josephat Iha
Image: STEVE MOKAYA

FEWER TOURISTS

At Mombasa beach, an open restaurant, Maasai Resort Hotel, borders the sea. Its branded umbrellas and tents dot the vast stretch of the beach. Everything in the open hotel spells money and opulence.

The manager, Josephat Iha, however says business is low due to Covid-19.

"Before the pandemic, we used to make profits of up to a million shillings. Nowadays, we hardly get close to that," he says.

Iha expresses hope of getting more customers by and by thanks to the strategic location of the hotel.

"People love this place because it's literally at the beach. We even help them get boats for deep-sea voyages. We hope that as time goes by, more visitors will come in as before," he says.

At the hotel's entrance to the sea are two women. They are selling handmade Maasai shoes.

"We are five people, based in Kisauni. Three of us, men, do the handiwork, while we two do the sales," Wanjiku Ng'ang'a says.

They target female tourists as they have proven to be the ones interested in their merchandise. A pair of shoes goes for Sh800.

"We started in 2019 after we realised that there are no jobs. We visit various beaches every day. Sometimes we hawk our items in the streets. But we make an honest living," she says.