Refurbishing Mombasa

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Nicholas Okumu is a teacher at a small school in Mombasa. Here he writes about the surprising rate at which public works slide into dilapidation — or destruction — in Kenya’s tourist hub.

For the past one year and a half the county government of Mombasa has gone all out to upgrade the county’s infrastructure by re-carpeting roads – even within the housing estates, tarmacking sidewalks, improving the drainage system, increasing access to piped water, etc.

The current public works projects are, of course, quite welcome considering that when I first came to Mombasa – which is Kenya’s tourist capital – I was shocked by the dilapidated infrastructure and the amount of filth and garbage choking the town. I felt at the time that Mombasa’s reputation was overrated. How quickly things change! I spoke to one resident who expressed his joy by telling me that Mombasa isn’t what it used to be; that it could now be compared to London or to any of the world’s most celebrated cities. He however called upon the authorities to see to it that the trend was maintained.

Indeed such social and beautification projects are not new to Kenya or Mombasa. Sustaining them, however, has been a bit of a challenge. Previously, roads have been paved and tarmacked, only to be left to crumble and decay to the extent that a visitor would scarcely believe that the said roads ever existed. About two years ago, some security installations were put up at the ferry crossing. Exactly four months later they had ground to a halt, been vandalized and reduced to empty shells which passers-by now use garbage dumps. The authorities’ inability to keep such minor installations in working order did not, however, dampen their spirits. They have now put up bigger security gates complete with scanners; leaving skeptics to wonder how long they will be able to maintain those.

By Nicholas Okumu