The ongoing sea sand harvesting by the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) for the construction of a second oil terminal at the port of Mombasa at a cost of Sh.40billion has split the affected stakeholders.
And the controversy is getting more murky and nasty after a fisherman, Rashid Mwadume was last week abducted and later released unharmed by unknown people in what is being linked to the protests against the sand harvesting off the pristine and award winning Diani beach in Kwale County.
Diani has been voted as the best destination beach in the world for the last five consecutive years and there are fears that persistent dredging will strip it off that glory and hence kill tourism in South Coast.
A meeting convened by the National Assembly’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee which visited KPA and Kwale to address the issue degenerated into a shouting match as the various groups disagreed on the way forward.
Factions have emerged one led by a trustee of the Coast Beach Management Units, Mgandi Kalinga, which is supporting the dredging and another one comprising environmentalists, marine scientists, hoteliers, tour operators, professionals and members of the South Coast Residents Association who are vehemently opposed.
There is also yet another group of fishermen led by Nyali Beach Management Unit Chairman, Mwafitina Juma which has also lent its support for the sand harvesting after striking a compensation deal with the ports authority.
Kalinga who had earlier opposed the sand mining off the pristine Diani beach in Kwale County shocked many with his change of heart and was shouted down when he stood to give his views in support of the harvesting during the committee sitting at Diani last weekend.
His explanation that KPA will compensate those affected by the harvesting was greeted with a chorus of boos and jeers from the rival faction led by the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Hotel Keepers and Caterers Coast region, Sam Ikwai.
“We cannot continue objecting to the sand harvesting forever considering that there will be compensation to those
affected, including a donation of boats to our fishermen,” said Kalinga who is also an activist.
He clashed with Matuga MP, Kassim Tandaza who dismissed his stand, saying the harvesting has to stop immediately as it was threatening marine life and the livelihoods of thousands of locals.
Tandaza told the committee led by its Chairman, Kareke Mbiuki to expunge Kalinga’s views from its records as they were not useful.
“Mr. Kalinga you are in every forum and you seem to be an expert on everything yet you are not even a fisherman,”
Tandaza said amid cheers from the group calling for a ban on the dredging.
The legislator said coastal livelihoods revolve around the blue economy, noting that Kwale has no cash crops like other areas which have tea and coffee and that the region largely depends on marine resources from the Indian Ocean.
Juma said the dredging is a blessing in disguise since they had struck a deal with KPA and gave it consent to proceed on condition that they will be compensated.
“The uproar over the dredging is coming from groups that are least affected by the sea sand mining,” he claimed adding that the dredging is concentrated in areas of Ng’ombeni and Waa.
The Mbiuki-led committee rejected calls by the stakeholders to stop the harvesting and instead recommended the use of dialogue to resolve the issuewhile promising to table their report to Parliament by end of May.
Mbiuki directed the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to urgently convene a meeting to amicably resolve the dispute.
The committee chairman said the meeting was called after the stakeholders petitioned Parliament against the sand harvesting.
By James Muchai