Kipini: Green paradise that the deep, blue ocean swallowed up
Laden fishermen used to race to the shores, tourists surfing in the waters and dolphins playing at sunset
Ten years ago, Kipini village was very beautiful and scenic — a well buttered slice of paradise for both locals and tourists.
Surrounded by historical buildings, the village provided a vantage view of the ocean. One could watch fishermen race to the shores with their catch, tourists surfing in the deep blue waters and dolphins playing elegantly at sunset.
"It was idyllic. This was not just a place, it was the place. Imagine dolphins entertaining tourists," reminisces Ms Lucy Tofani, once an investor but currently a resident.
Residents here made a living not just from fishing, but also from boat sailing competitions, fishing competitions and tourism.
The village stands out in the entire Tana River County as the only one with tightly held coastal traditions and Swahili culture.
But all this is in the past. The Indian Ocean has been rising gradually, consuming the village as residents watch helplessly.
Perhaps what aptly captures the extent of devastation is the great Tana River Lodge. A magnificent facility built atop hilly sand dunes, the lodge hosted local and international tourists. But it is now a pale shadow of its former self.
Out of nine cottages, only one has been spared. The others have been denuded by the ocean waves. The business is all but dead.
"This was one of the most beautiful tourist lodges in the region. Look at it now, remnants of the eight lodges are currently just stepping stones from the ocean. Only one lodge remains, but maybe not for long," says Mr Joseph Gachango, the hotel's managing director.
In less than two years, the ocean has consumed more than 30 metres of land and is baying for more.
Recently, more than 18 workers at the lodge packed their bags and left. There was nothing to do any more. Worse, terror attacks in nearby Mpeketoni scared away tourists and businesses.
"We are currently two workers left to take care of this property. We are literally watching it being eaten by the waters. We have been impoverished, nothing is working here anymore," Mr Gachango says.
According to county meteorology director Isaiah Munga, the situation in Kipini is a result of thermal expansion that is fast affecting the sea level.
Mr Munga says a rise in temperature causes the ocean to warm up and become dense, hence rising. Kipini is already at sea level, he said, and the ocean is seeking extra space since there is no other channel.
"Even the fresh water River Tana becomes salty in the morning until about noon. It then goes back to its fresh nature in the afternoon — that is a result of thermal expansion," he says.
He advises the county government of Tana River to borrow a leaf from Lamu, and work on rechanneling the ocean to protect the land from being gobbled up.
As solutions are being sought, the residents are counting losses and staring at a bleak future. With the fall of the lodge and the dwindling tourist numbers, many have no livelihood, while the land in its entirety has lost its shimmer.
Ms Amina Rashid, who used to be a tour guide, has resorted to helping her mother cook viazi karayi and
bajia for sale to the few local tourists who happen upon the village once in a while.
"I used to make up to Sh4,000 a day from foreign tourists. On a good day, I could even earn Sh8,000. But times have changed drastically; local tourists pay so little," says Ms Rashid.
Kipini beaches have since been abandoned and all that is left are memories of the good, old days.
Mr Gachango, however, is hopeful that if the national government in partnership with the county government builds a wall on the shores, the area could regain its lost glory.
"Two things are needed to bring this place back to life; a wall against the rising waters and absolute security from terrorists. If those two are sorted out, Kipini will enjoy a new dawn," he says.
If this is not done, Mr Gachango says, Kipini will slip into a ghost village. Recovery will be difficult.
The county government is set to invest more than Sh100 million on tourism. Residents of Kipini hope part of it will be used to tame the rising waters.
Fishermen at Kipini beach front in Tana River County. Right, some of the cottages that the ocean waters have gobbled up.