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

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - BUSINESS - @steven­thomas Steven­[email protected] BY STEPHEN ODUOR

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.

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