The National Museums of Kenya has gone against the National Land Commission and the Mombasa County Government as it continued to build a seawall along the Indian Ocean.
The construction activity that is behind Fort Jesus at Old Town encroaches into about two acres of the ocean and according to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, it has also blocked a public path to the sea.
On Thursday, Mr Joho and NLC boss Muhammad Swazuri stormed the site of the Sh498 million project and ordered it stopped saying it was an attempt to reclaim two-acres of ocean land, contrary to an application made to only erect a wall.
“Last week, a passer-by alerted me that there was some reinforcement in the ocean. I was told somebody was reclaiming land behind the historical Fort Jesus site to create a recreational zone,” said Prof Swazuri.
He said he will join forces with Mr Joho to stop the illegality.
“Reclamation of land is similar to land allocation and ocean waters are part of public land. Ordinarily an application should come to NLC, that is what the law says,” Prof Swazuri added.
However, the NMK defended the construction saying it will go on as it is according to laid down procedures.
“Our position is that the construction is going on. As far as we know we have not breached any of the conditions that we were given by both the County Government and the licensing authority. We have all the documentation available for inspection. As an institution, we see that this as a small misunderstanding which can be easily cleared with a phone call or a meeting,” said NMK director general Mzalendo Kibunjia on Friday.
Prof Kibunjia explained that part of the space that Mr Joho had indicated was being reclaimed was for purposes of putting up a cofferdam.
A cofferdam is a watertight enclosure built to allow construction work below the waterline.
“We demarcated the area where we will put a temporary cofferdam that will protect the workers and once the wall is completed it will be removed. It will protect the building of the seawall during high tides because without it, it would mean that the construction will only go on during low tides,” Prof Kibunjia said.
However, according to the construction plan seen by the Nation, the site is specified as “to be reclaimed”.
But Prof Kibunjia says the map reflects earlier plans which were to both reclaim and build a wall that was later amended.
“As a result of stakeholders meeting that we did with the Old Town inhabitants, they felt that they needed a space where they could sit in the evening and socialise but we got rid of the plan as it was above the allocated funds for the project,” he said.
He said the process to reclaim and put the seawall would have cost Sh1 billion and that the NMK decided to put up a seawall only.
He acknowledged that NMK was using the two-acre land for their cofferdam construction and space for workers on site.
Asked the amount of space that the cofferdam will require, Prof Kibunjia only said “the cofferdam is being put at the low water mark.”
He says the new wall will be put up 10 metres away from the original wall which has been eroding hence threatening to destroy the historical site.
Mr Joho had indicated that if the sea is reclaimed, it will kill the ecological system of the area.
Involve govt agencies
Prof Swazuri warned private developers against attempts to reclaim the Indian Ocean, saying they have to involve the NLC, the Kenya Maritime Authority, Kenya Wildlife Service, National Environment Management Authority (Nema), Kenya Ports Authority and all stakeholders mandated by law to protect Kenyan waters if they want to reclaim the ocean.
“Under the Constitution, the NLC and other government agencies are supposed to protect ecologically sensitive areas and that is one of them. Whatever development that is being done must adhere to conservation principles as laid out by the Constitution and the land laws of this country,” Prof Swazuri added.