Tourism is the main source of income for the coastal Kenya economies. In fact, a survey carried out in 2019 within the region found out that almost all the families within coastal Kenya are dependent either directly or indirectly on tourists. From hotel and accommodation, beach boys, food, travel, and many others, the economic activities in Coastal Kenya are in a way linked to tourism. That explains why the entire year 2020 since coronavirus was first reported in China and later spiraling to become a global health threat, Coastal Kenya and especially Mombasa and its environs have become the hardest-hit regions of our country economically. The number of foreign tourists considerably went down, with those who were around, fearing a catastrophe, opting to travel back to their countries. This denied these regions the much-needed source of income. But still, a majority of foreigners remained behind, some having fallen in love with the Kenyan coast and others believing that there are fewer chances of getting Coronavirus in Kenya than in their countries.
One of those guys is Jim, a Briton. When I met him, he tells me that he had traveled back to his country but had to come back here because he felt much safer here from Coronavirus. But behind all this love for this country, Jim narrates to me that his greatest cause of fear in Kenya is not Coronavirus but the police. He narrates to me how the police pounce on them and use the slightest excuse to extort money from them. He narrates to me how one evening at around 6 pm, he was seated with his wife in his car at a beach parking in Nyali. there were about 6 other cars in the parking lot and so they knew they were safe. Around 6:20 pm, 3 police officers walked towards the beach parking, asked the first car on the parking to block the entry to the parking so that the other cars won’t leave. What followed thereafter was full drama. The police asked them why they were at the beach past 6 pm. all attempts for him to explain that he has never known its a crime to be at the beach parking past 6 pm were ignored. At some point, one of the policemen became violent and threatened to shoot him. the officers, from Bamburi police station, called a police land rover and ordered them to follow them to the station. as they waited to go to the station, 4 cars that were at the parking were allowed to leave after “talking with the police”. so Jim and another car whose occupants he didn’t know were taken to the station. what followed were four hours of harassment. it was only after 11 pm that they were asked to pay an instant fine of 10,000 to get their freedom.
Jim’s story is not different from Caren’s which was highlighted earlier in one of our articles. She was residing at Cowrie shell beach hotel. One morning, she got out of the hotel after breakfast, she dressed in a swimsuit, took a towel, and just dashed into the ocean. As she was getting out of the water, two police officers approached her and arrested her for not wearing a mask. she was taken to a police land rover parked t the entry to the hotel and while dripping water and in a swimsuit, taken to Bamburi police station. Hotel staff who had watched the entire drama in bewilderment had to go to the station and rescue and, and not without parting with a bribe. According to Caren, these officers noted, wakeup and camp close by early in the morning and pounce on innocent tourists who like to go for a morning swim because truly, you cannot swim with a mask.
Gats story is even sadder. a Turkish residing in Mtwapa, he tells me that he had to move away from anywhere close to Bamburi police station for fear of police “I mean you cannot stay around a place where you have come to enjoy life, with fear that something bad is going to happen. When police see us whites, they see the money. And they will arrest you for nothing and push you to part with a bribe”. The first arrest he tells me was when he was arrested at a private beach (outside his house) while swimming with his daughter past 6 pm. The officers, still from Bamburi police station arrested him and he had to part with a bribe of Ksh. 10,000 to buy his freedom. “My case was even better” he adds, “A friend of mine from my country was arrested while swimming with his daughter at his home near English point Marina and he had to pay Ksh. 30,000 to be set free”. With this, Gats and a majority of his friends have decided to go back to their mother countries. “I plan to leave Kenya and go to Germany in April, then after that I go back to Turkey. If I don’t miss Kenya, I can’t come back”. As he was explaining this, we see a group of about 6 whites in Cuffs being led towards Mtwapa police station for not having masks. “Who can stay in such an environment where you have to live in constant fear of arrests” he mourns.
Its close to 7pm, so we take a walk around Mtwapa. and true to his word, police are walking in groups, arresting anybody they see without a mask. a young man from some distance screams “Hao lazima watoe pesa ili wawachiliwe”. That the life of Mombasa residents nowadays. Constant extortion by the same officers who are supposed to protect them. out of curiosity, I try to find out how other countries are enforcing the need for wearing masks in public. In South Africa for example, I noted that you cannot be arrested for not having a mask, although wearing a mask is mandatory under the new disaster management regulations, you will only get into trouble if you fail to comply with a law enforcement officer’s instructions to wear one. And I believe that should be it in Kenya, the police should simply be at the forefront in educating masses on the need for wearing masks, and resort to arrests if the concerned person doesn’t obey the request to wear the mask. But corrupt police officers have taken these regulations to enrich themselves, daylight theft on Kenyans by the very people who are meant to protect them.
And with these officers on the ground, all the efforts by the Tourism CS to market Kenya as a perfect travel destination will never bear fruits. And for Kenyans, we remain prisoners in our own country, let down by the very people we fight hard to keep in power.