Easter is one of the seasons when Mombasa springs to life. Visitors from all over Kenya stream in to enjoy some sun and sand. For a week or so there’s a mini boom in the city that is felt by all businesses. For a few days residents learn to live with traffic jams, crowded restaurants and a packed beach.
However, this was not the case in Mombasa this year as fear, travel advisories and the attack on Garissa University college dampened the mood for many would be travelers. There are no official records, but this might be the quietest Easter in recent memory for most. A situation that puts the general economy of Mombasa in jeopardy due to the heavy reliance on tourism inflows.
The hospitality and tourism industry has so far lost close to 30,000 jobs as more hotels close. In January 2015 the figure was at 21,000, according to Kenya Association of Travel Operators chairman Adam Jillo.
“At this time of the year, we should be doing lots of business at the public beach, but as you can see we’re not. There are very few visitors and even Mombasa people have kept away”, Shadrack a vendor at Pirates Beach lamented.
On 27th March the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) updated the travel advisory against all but essential travel to:
- Within 15km of the coast from the Tana River down to and including Tiwi; this area includes Mombasa Island, Moi International Airport (including transit through the airport), Malindi, Kilifi and Watamu.
This advisory came a few days before the Garissa University attack, the worst in Kenya’s history since the US Embassy bombing of 1998. This advisory weighed heavily on Mombasa which saw yet another round of foreigners cut short their holidays and evacuated.
The attacks on Garissa added to the the gloom even as there was heightened security throughout the Easter period.
Cloud of Fear at Mall & Church
MOMBASA police intercept suspect vehicle at City Mall arrest 4 occupants and hand them to anti terror squad for probe pic.twitter.com/OsEOufiJTS
— Rob N Jillo (@robjillo) April 3, 2015
Perhaps, due to heightened vigilance or fear two dramatic arrests were made in Mombasa. At City Mall, a car whose number had been circulated, was stopped and the occupants arrested for interrogation. The people are alleged to have been spotted earlier surveying the mall. The police are yet to issue a statement on the matter or take the suspects to court.
The fear was palpable, the malls at Nyali suffered the most as people stayed away especially on Friday and Saturday. The parking lots were generally empty at a time when Mombasa is bustling with human and vehicle traffic. Things however looked up on Sunday and Monday as residents fears eased.
At the Anglican Cathedral, the Easter sermon was stopped and worshipers evacuated due to a bomb scare. An abandoned car at the parking lot was the cause of the fear, there was a veiled lady inside making calls. The police and bomb squad were called in midst the panic. After inspecting the car with a sniffer dog, the police then towed it to central police station.
JUST IN: Gunfire reported at ACK cathedral Mombasa as security personnel try to thwart a terrorist attack on worshippers.— modern kenyan corps (@moderncorps) April 5, 2015
Inaccurate reports shared on social media, reporting of gunshots inside the church only heightened the fear.
According to one of the guards, the vehicle forced its way through the rear gate and then parked in front of the church raising even more fears after the driver and another male passenger took off, leaving a young lady behind. She was arrested for interrogation.
These events served to add more apprehension in an already tense situation. Easter coincides with the April holiday season when domestic tourism peaks for about 3 weeks before the start of the low season. This year however, security fears and the shadow of Garissa attack leave Mombasa with little to smile about.