Nine years on, Lamu makes crucial strides to recover from Shabaab attacks


Tourists pound maize during the 20th edition of the Lamu Cultural Festival in November 2022. The county and national governments have made efforts to build trust and confidence for tourists and guests visiting Lamu nine years after Al-Shabaab attacks.

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu | Nation Media Group

Lamu County has for the past nine years strived to recover from the scars of terrorism.

The county was in the spotlight following the June 15, 2014, Al-Shabaab attack in Mpeketoni town and subsequent strikes and attempts in Witu, Kibaoni, Hindi, and Boni forest.

The attacks claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed property worth millions of shillings.

Sectors that are Lamu’s economic backbone dwindled.

They include tourism, trade, and fishing.

Lamu is a key tourist destination and many domestic and international tourists avoided visiting the region fearing for their lives.

Nine years down the line, however, Lamu is shining with success as most of the sectors, particularly tourism, are now performing well.

This is thanks to efforts by the county and the national government to change the image of Lamu form a terrorism hotspot to a peaceful haven.

In September 2015, the national government launched a multi-agency security operation called ‘Linda Boni’ to flush out Al-Shabaab militants believed to be hiding in the dense Boni forest.

The operation, now rebranded Operation Amani Boni, is still underway, with remarkable security achievements made.

Reduced by over 90 percent

“There have been very few attacks since the security operation in Boni forest was introduced. I can say attacks here have reduced by over 90 percent,” said Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia.

Other steps the state has taken to ensure peace and stability in Lamu are the completion of crucial amenities, especially roads and the Lamu port and its related infrastructure.

The 135km Lamu-Witu-Garsen road was completed and opened by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta on May 20, 2021, the same day he officially opened the first berth at the new port in Kililana, Lamu West.

Before the road was completed, Al-Shabaab militants used to ambush passenger and security vehicles, attack and kill civilians and security agents at will.

Attacks have been curbed

Since the road was completed, such attacks have been curbed.

Nation.Africa also observed that the local government has also been at the forefront in ensuring the bad image of Lamu is changed for the better.

In recent times, Lamu has reintroduced festivals to help market the region to the outside world.

Governor Issa Timamy said celebrating the social and cultural events provides the best platform to sell Lamu’s tourism, culture, and heritage to the outside world.

This year alone, Lamu has marked three key events.

In October, Lamu marked the Yoga and Maulid festivals that saw over 7,000 residents and visitors from within and outside Kenya attend.

The most recent event celebrated in Lamu that proved beyond doubt that the region’s image has changed is the Lamu Cultural Festival.

Spent over Sh30 million

The event was marked between November 24 and 27 in Lamu Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage site.

More than 30,000 guests and tourists from various parts of Kenya and around the globe attended.

The county government spent over Sh30 million to organise the event and market Lamu, especially through social and mainstream media, television, radio, and newspapers.

“We are doing all this as an effort to have key sectors of the economy, particularly tourism, revived,” Mr Timamy said.

“The Lamu tourism sector really suffered as a result of terrorism … more so the Mpeketoni terror attack. But today, I am happy that the sector has already made a turnaround and is on the path towards total healing.”

Lamu Tourism Association (LTA) executive officer Ghalib Alwy noted that Lamu tourism had grown by almost 90 percent and the organisation is looking forward to even better times.

Mr Alwy lauded the national government restoring normality and security in Lamu after the terror episodes that shook the region.

He also lauded the efforts of the devolved government, the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), Magical Kenya and others to market Lamu as a safe tourist destination.

“We’re in the high tourist season. Most hotels in Lamu are fully booked. Lamu tourism has the potential to record a 100 percent [recovery] even before the end of December,” said Mr Alwy.

LTA deputy chair Fridah Njeri said efforts were also underway to incorporate weddings as part of a wider plan to boost the key economic sectors of Lamu, especially tourism, which was previously affected by insecurity and the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’ve introduced strategies to market Lamu as the perfect destination for weddings and honeymoons for both local and international tourists,” Ms Njeri said.

“There has been increased demand for wedding and honeymoon services by tourists visiting various hotels and lodges here. We shall embrace these weddings and honeymoons.

“When tourists begin visiting Lamu for exotic weddings and honeymoon experiences, that means good money for the county and country.”