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Tuktuks, boda-bodas threaten Lamu Old Town’s Unesco status

Wednesday January 15 2020

A tuktuk in Lamu Old Town.

A tuktuk in Lamu Old Town on January 14, 2020. The presence of such automobiles is threatening the status of the Old Town as a Unesco World Heritage site since it might end up being delisted due to westernisation. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The hope of Lamu Old Town retaining its original state as a Unesco World Heritage Site continues to fade as tuktuks have now made their entry into the historical town.

Tuktuks have joined boda-bodas in the public transport business in the town.

These are a form of westernisation that directly threatens the culture and heritage of Lamu Old Town.

A survey by the Nation has established that there are currently over 200 boda-boda riders in Old Town and at least three tuktuks with five others expected to arrive on the island before the end of the month.


The situation is worrying the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and other stakeholders, including those in the tourism sector who have, for years, been at the forefront in ensuring the historical town retains its traditions as a world heritage site, having been listed by Unesco in 2001.


This requires that all elements of westernisation, including boda-bodas, tuktuks and other vehicles keep off the town to conserve the culture and heritage of the ancient Swahili town.

Due to the narrowness of the streets in the town, the only mode of transport allowed is donkeys and people walking on foot.

Speaking to journalists Wednesday, Lamu principal curator in charge of national monuments and Lamu world heritage site Mohamed Ali Mwenje termed the introduction of automobiles in Lamu Town a major challenge in its preservation as a historical site.


Mr Mwenje pleaded with the Lamu County government to consider introducing regulations that will help in curbing the automobile menace in the historical town.

“We’re proud of Lamu Old Town which was listed by Unesco as a heritage site due to its well-preserved culture and heritage spanning decades. But it is unfortunate that all this might come to an end if no regulations are introduced, especially with the coming of boda-bodas and tuktuks at the heritage site in recent times.

“The town’s tranquillity continues to fade with each passing day. It is unfortunate that we might even lose the glory of being a Unesco World Heritage Site if proper mechanisms are not put in place to regulate this,” said Mr Mwenje.

Lamu Cultural Promotional Group Chairman Ghalib Alwy told the Nation that the erosion of Lamu Town’s culture and heritage is now discouraging tourists from visiting.


Mr Alwy said the town’s heritage has been under threat from westernisation and, most recently, introduction of boda-boda and tuktuk businesses has brought it even closer to being delisted by Unesco.

Mr Alwy called for urgent removal of the boda-boda riders and tuktuks from the town to save its heritage.

On Saturday, a meeting brought together all stakeholders in the various sectors in Lamu to address the problem.

During the meeting, it was resolved that boda-bodas and tuktuks conduct their activities on the outskirts of Lamu with their special pick-up points or stages being at Milano and the donkey sanctuary areas.

“Our appeal to the county government is that it should formulate policies and regulations to control motorcycle and tuktuk operators in the historical city. They should not be allowed to operate in the town centre but rather on the outskirts of the old town. If this doesn’t happen, then they should be completely removed from the heritage site. Even tourists are shying away from visiting Lamu in recent days due to the boda-boda and tuktuk menace,” said Mr Alwy.

Residents have also been complaining over a rise in accidents caused by boda-bodas and tuktuks.