Mombasa leaders, led by Governor Abdulswamad Nassir, have expressed concerns about insecurity in the tourist city, with panga-wielding gangs wreaking havoc in some constituencies ahead of the December holidays.
Business usually booms in December, with thousands of local and international tourists trooping to Mombasa to enjoy the festivities, warm weather, food and culture, thus boosting the local economy. Most hotels are fully booked for the holidays.
But leaders are worried criminals will damage the image of the city and discourage visitors from coming.
They have laid out a robust strategy to curb insecurity, including engaging idle youths with income-generating activities, enhancing foot patrols by police in civilian clothes, and setting up roadblocks constituency borders.
Last week, the Mombasa County Assembly passed a motion to hire hundreds of Mombasa youths for casual basis to clean up streets, beaches and other recreational areas during the December holidays. Ward reps said the devolved Kazi Mtaani project would help jobless youths earn a living.
“We want to heighten and maintain security in Mombasa city. Security is very critical,” said Mombasa County Commissioner John Otieno.
“Without security, there is no development, and tourists will be scared away and thereby our economy will go down. Hence, security is paramount and critical. Security is the responsibility of each one of us.”
Speaking during a security meeting convened by Governor Nassir, the leaders pledged to deal with insecurity.
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The meeting brought together the county security committee, led by Mr Otieno, tourism stakeholders, ward reps and other stakeholders.
“We can do much when we collaborate. It becomes difficult to implement certain government policies because of resistance from some quarters when leaders work in parallel,” said Mr Otieno.
He cited unemployment and drug abuse as the main contributors to insecurity, urging security agencies and leaders to eliminate the trade drugs and their consumption.
He said national government officers, including chiefs and police officers, have begun a major crackdown on illicit brews and drugs.
He lauded the county government for introducing Kazi Mtaani.
“When you have idle youths, they will resort to sealing to satisfy their needs. Therefore, the introduction of the Kazi Mtaani will ‘help engage] these youths,” he added.
Hoteliers said Mombasa hotels are fully booked ahead of the holidays, urging security agencies to tame insecurity.
“We will secure Mombasa and it will be peaceful. It is possible. We want the festivities to be peaceful,” Mr Otieno said.
Governor Nassir pledged to ensure Mombasa is safe by working closely with security agencies. Last week, he demolished a 10-year old major drug den Maboxini frequented by criminals and street urchins.
During the eviction, police and street urchins engaged in running battles. Police established that a street urchin fired a shot as he escaped the dragnet.
“I urge members of the Mombasa County Assembly to reveal all the hotspot areas and security agencies will act on it,” he said.
Kisauni MP Rashid Bedzimba said that in his constituency, the largest in the county, only Mjambere, Magogoni and Mtopanga are crime hotspots, with other areas such as Shanzu and Bamburi enjoying relative calm and peace.
“I have the largest constituency with seven wards, including Magogoni, Mtopanga, Mjambere, Junda, Shanzu, Bamburi and Mwakirunge. We lead in many things, including population, poverty and even crime, battling for the slot with Likoni. But for a long time we have enjoyed relative peace,” Mr Bedzimba said.
He said that if security agencies can curb crimes in the three unsafe wards, his constituency will be the safest.
“If we can contain the three wards and stop gangs from escaping or crossing over to Junda, Shanzu or the neighbouring wards, then we will have done away with insecurity in Kisauni. As we are headed to the long holidays, we should contain insecurity,” he added.
He urged security personnel to enhance foot patrols and station police vehicles at the Barsheba stage and Mwisho wa Lami to help arrest criminals.
“Governor, please ensure hotspot areas are lit at night like Changamwe. In my constituency, when you walk at night, you can step into a pothole. Things are tough in Kisauni. We must all collaborate to fight crimes,” he added.
His Mvita counterpart Masoud Machele cited drug abuse as the main challenge contributing to insecurity. He said criminals always target Technical University of Mombasa students at night.
He urged police to erect roadblocks in the constituency to prevent criminals from Kisauni entering his area on motorcycles.
“The criminals are from Kisauni who come to attack TUM students. In Mvita, security is safer but the only challenge is drug peddling, which is rife in godowns in my constituency. Tudor and Muoroto are grappling with illicit brew,” said the first-term MP.
Jomvu MP Badi Twalib lauded the governor for convening the security meeting to address the challenges. But he blamed unemployment for the rise in crimes.
“We should engage the idle youths with income-generating activities like the Kazi Mtaani county project. Jomvu is relatively calm because we engage administration officers in curbing insecurity. But we must curb insecurity during the festive season,” he said.