Old Town falls silent as locals stay indoors

A section of Mombasa Old Town. IMAGE/COURTESY

The streets are narrow. Residents peek curiously through shuttered windows as we stroll in Old Town, Mombasa.

On an ordinary day, three-wheeler vehicles, popularly known as tuk-tuks, would be rumbling up and down the streets as residents go about their business.

Now, silence rules. The vibrant life of the ancient town is gone. Entry points have been barricaded and streets deserted. The main thoroughfares — Makadara Road and Digo Road — are police territory.

There are at least 15 roadblocks manned by armed police and watched by security cameras.

Shops are closed and so is the famous Marikiti market, which at a time like this would be a beehive of activity, especially during these last 10 days of Ramadhan.

Some Marikiti traders have crossed over to Bondeni, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, whose existence some locals dismissed as a myth and finally saw them being put under lockdown.

It is the ninth day of the cessation of movement and the town is at a standstill with activities only witnessed in the open air markets — the only businesses allowed to operate.


Women still visit for their daily household shopping. Social distancing is rarely observed. Some, however, have begun wearing face masks.

Shopkeepers who would otherwise be wooing buyers ahead of the Idd celebrations have all closed. And businesses are feeling the pain.

“I brought a container of clothes expecting business during Ramadhan, but that was not to be. I’ve lost a lot of money and don’t know where to start after this,” Mr Hamza Ali, a Kibokoni trader, said.

A stroll deep in the town reveals that, for the better part of the day, locals remain indoors, as they abide by the rules.

Still, they seem sceptical of the existence of the disease, and its danger. They are still resistant to being tested as Ministry of Health officials who have pitched camp in the area say.

Not once, the medics said, have they hit even a quarter of their daily target of testing at least 500 residents.

Over the last four days, only 40 residents have come out to be tested.

“They’re still hesitant. Yesterday (Wednesday), for instance only two people came to be tested. It is not easy and it will never be anytime soon,” said a health official who has been posted to the area.

Some residents are still being picked from their homes after testing positive.

Kenya Red Cross and Haki Africa, a human rights organisation, have been putting in efforts to educate the residents, as they distribute food donated by the county government.

Volunteers, who include locals, have also been drafted to help shore up the numbers.

The devolved unit agreed to allow human rights groups to head the exercise because of the bad blood between residents and the county administration.

“We’ve made strides in distributing food and ensuring residents are provided with other essentials,” Haki Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid said.

Governor Hassan Joho has held meetings with the local leaders to re-establish rapport with residents.

Last week, five people who had tested positive reportedly disappeared from their homes just hours after the containment measures were announced.

Three were later arrested and one was found dead as officials continued to trace the fifth person. Coast Regional Commissioner John Elungata has urged residents to obey the containment measures.

On a visit to Old Town, Mr Elungata told them that how they behave during the containment will guide the government on when to lift the measures.

“We have to utilise this time by coming out to be tested and following the guidelines,” he said. State and county officials have not reported any indiscipline in the zone in the past few days.