Joho directive: Mombasa eyes Insta-worthy aesthetic

On any other day, the view from the eighth floor of Imaara Building in Mombasa would consist of toxic smoke billowing over the skyline of Kenya's port city.

The emissions, witnessed for years, came from the tourist hub's largest dumpsite and posed a health hazard to residents and motorists using the busy Mombasa-Nairobi highway.

Filthy smells from Kibarani dumpsite and heaps of garbage dotting parts of the city have come to characterise Kenya's main tourist hub.

Tourism stakeholders have argued that the optics are simply bad for business. International visitors, who are key to propping up Mombasa's economy, have had to endure the stench when travelling by road from the Moi International Airport.

Growing calls for change from residents and hoteliers forced county authorities into action, with Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho ordering closure of the dumpsite by end of June.


Then came a directive compelling commercial building owners in the central business district (CBD) to paint their premises white and blue, a decision intended to make the tourist hub more photographable.

elephant tusks Mombasa

Buildings along Moi avenue beside the iconic elephant tusks bear new white and blue colours as directed by Mombasa County on July 2, 2018. Photo | Laban Walloga |NMG

A court petition to suspend the order failed after a judge declined to suspend the governor’s directive.

While the move was met with resistance at first, they have grudgingly come around after the county government threatened legal action against defiant owners.

A spot-check of the CBD reveals an already-changing aesthetic - the city's buildings are adopting a more uniform look.

white and blue buildings Mombasa

The now white and blue buildings along Jomo Kenyatta Avenue that looked dilapidated before. Photo | Laban Walloga | NMG

The decision is arguably a stroke of genius: the city is getting an instant facelift without cost to the county government.

Building owners in Old Town and the city centre have been compelled to paint premises out of their own pocket.

White and blue building along Jomo Kenyatta Avenue

White and blue building along Jomo Kenyatta Avenue. Photo | Laban Walloga | NMG

“We picked the colour blue because it represents our heritage, the sea that is around us. The ocean is dear to our hearts. As a people we encounter it every day. People are asking why, but Mombasa has always been a tourist destination and we want to regain what we had lost,” Transport, Infrastructure and Public Works County Executive Tawfiq Balala said Monday.

Buildings painted white and blue

Buildings painted white and blue along the Moi Avenue roundabout in Mombasa. Photo | Kevin Odit | NMG

“This allows tourists to take photos. We want to be the most photographed city in Africa. After a month we will have 100 per cent compliance,” he added.

Workers paint a building along Abdelnasser Road

Workers paint a building along Abdelnasser Road on July 2, 2018. Photo | Laban Walloga |NMG

The painting is going hand-in-hand with the rehabilitation of footpaths by the administration.

Contractors can be seen in parts of the city repairing old pavements and replacing them with red bricks.

"We have chosen red bricks so as to differentiate the motorised and non-motorised ways. We have started with the CBD first but in the next five years we will cover the entire county,” Mr Balala said of the decision.

Haile Selassie Avenue Mombasa

Ongoing repair of Haile Selassie Avenue pavement with red tiles on June 20, 2018. Photo | Laban Walloga | NMG

Meanwhile, the administration wants to turn the Kibarani dumpsite into an attraction for local residents and tourists.

“After the clean-up is done we will create something unique that you have never seen,” Mr Joho said of the move to beautify the site with trees.

With the renovation of Mombasa CBD, which comes ahead of a major international tourism conference in October, residents can only hope that the county administration will handle a long-running garbage crisis with the same vigour.

Kibarani dumpsite

A section of reclaimed land at Kibarani dumpsite after its closure in this picture taken on July 1, 2018. Photo | Laban Walloga | NMG.

Many also hope that efforts to clear up piles of uncollected garbage lining city streets will continue long after the international delegates have left.

Additional reporting by Lynette Mukami