The national government has banned hawkers from entering the Sh460 million Mama Ngina Waterfront, saying they diminish its appeal to international tourists.
Hawkers have been demanding to be allowed to sell their merchandise at the waterfront, which was refurbished by the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife to make it a world-class facility to draw international tourists.
For about 18 months now, traders have been unable to enter the 26-acre facility near the Likoni channel crossing.
But Mama Ngina Waterfront national coordinator Ali Noor says hawkers will not be allowed into the popular destination.
“Every place has its own rules and regulations. Discipline is equally paramount. At the Mama Ngina Waterfront, we have our own rules and regulations which should be adhered to. They stipulate which businesses should be conducted here and how,” he said.
He said allowing hawkers into the iconic seafront will degrade the facility and destroy its image. National Youth Service personnel guard the facility.
“We don’t want to affect its authenticity. We must regulate businesses to ensure the facility does not deteriorate. We receive many tourists from all over the world. People come here to learn about the Swahili culture,” Mr Noor said.
The facility has an amphitheatre that can accommodate over 1,000 people, and the Kilindini Cultural Centre offers a taste of Swahili culture to tourists.
Mr Noor said that Mama Ngina was revamped to support tourism and not ‘hawking’, with only 76 stalls set up for small-scale traders.
He said it should maintain its appeal to tourists, describing it as a leisure and relaxation destination and not a marketplace.
“Hawkers should go to designated markets,” he added.
Mama Ngina Waterfront traders official Salim Shafi said allowing hawkers into the facility will breed criminality and that will dent the image of the area.
The recreational park, launched by President Kenyatta in 2019, draws international and local tourists. It was revamped to transform Mombasa into a leading and competitive world-class tourism destination.
Hundreds of traders, including curio sellers, entertainers and Swahili cuisine chefs, were evicted from the park.
They have been pleading with county officials and the national government to allow them to operate from there.
On March 27, 2020, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala closed down the waterfront to the public to curb coronavirus infections, leaving hundreds of traders jobless.
On June 1, Tourism Principal Secretary Safina Kwekwe announced the phased reopening of the waterfront to allow it to be used as a recreational park in a safe environment that would protect the health and safety of users.
The waterfront opens daily from 6am to 9am and from 4.30pm to 7pm for health exercises, including walking, jogging, running, cycling and skating.
The ministry prohibited driving into and through the waterfront, parking vehicles and motorbikes, meetings and all forms of gatherings.
But last month on World Tourism Day, Governor Hassan Joho directed his county officials to find ways of allowing traders to operate there, after Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir petitioned his administration.
“I know your challenges. We will formulate policies that support you to ensure whoever operates along the coastline are registered, recognised, trained and have capacity. Enable beach operators to operate, find a common ground and work together,” Mr Joho said.
Mr Nassir had earlier petitioned the parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry and Cooperatives to compel the government to allow the traders to operate from the waterfront.
“Please give our traders access to this facility so that they can fend for themselves. They need to earn a living to enable their children to go to school. It is important for us to reopen the waterfront so that traders can earn their income,” he said.
Traders said their inability to enter the facility had hurt their livelihoods.
“I was evicted when my shop was flattened by the county government. We do not know the status of this beach. We want justice. Was the beach grabbed by tycoons?” asked Margerate Luvuno, a trader.