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Lamu Island at risk of losing World Heritage status

There are mounting fears that Lamu Island could lose its status as a world heritage site due to the high proliferation of bodabodas operating within the Archipelago resulting in the Island losing its Old Swahili cultural allure.

Lamu is arguably the most unique and beautiful Swahili town in Kenya, but the increase in bodabodas is fast eroding the efforts to preserve the cultural richness of its historical town.

During a visit of Lamu’s museums and heritage sites today, Sports and Culture Cabinet Secretary Amb. Amina Mohammed expressed concerns over the likelihood of Lamu Island losing its status as a world heritage site due to lack of effective regulations to man the bodaboda sector that has recently exploded as a key employer for youths in the county.

She revealed that Kenya plans to ensure that Lamu retains its status as a world heritage site following the issue being raised by UNESCO that Lamu was flouting rules put in place to ensure that the Island maintains its profile as a cultural hotpot.

The touristic gem could be scrapped from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List because of pollution being caused by a growing number of bodabodas.

Flanked by National Museums of Kenya MD Mzalendo Kibunja, the CS stated that Lamu Island status as a world heritage site was up for review following recommendations by UNESCO over concerns that the county was not keeping up with measures aimed at maintaining Amu Island as heritage site.

“Of concern is the high influx of bodaboda operators within the Lamu seafront that is now affecting movement not only among tourists but also locals who are concerned that the seafront is considerably occupied by bodabodas,” she said.

The CS added that there is need for all stakeholders within the county and national government to come up with a working formula around which bodaboda operators could be allowed to operate while also ensuring the Island maintains its status as a world heritage site.

 Some stakeholders have in the past expressed concern that addressing the high influx of bodabodas and its regulation lacks political goodwill due to the complicity of some politicians in facilitating youths accessing the bodabodas as a source of employment.

“An alternative job sector is needed to keep youths away from the bodabodas within Lamu Island,” she stated.

There are at least 300 bodaboda operators in Lamu Island today with more youths expected to join the burgeoning sector this year given the lack of alternative jobs.

Kibunja also said that there is need for a capacity building forum to bring in all stakeholders to agree on a working formula around which bodabodas could work within the Island without being a menace.

“Although it is not in the county government’s list of priorities in terms of regulating the sector, there is need for everyone to be brought on board to show how the sector could lead to tourism decline that has already been impacted by COVID-19,” Kibunja said.

Lamu Museum’s curator Mohammed Mwenje further echoed that serious interventions and policies were needed to ensure that the bodaboda sector does not lead to the county’s decline as a premier tourism destination.

“There is need for a middle ground being reached to allow the old to coexist with the new way of life such as the bodaboda by creating certain spots that the bodabodas can operate in while ensuring that the Lamu Old town is not compromised,” Mwenje said.

“There must be a way to accommodate bodabodas if they cannot be removed wholesale,” Mwenje told KNA adding that both the county and national government have an obligation to educate Amu Island residents over the importance of having the town maintain its World heritage status.

By Amenya Ochieng

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