DeCOALanize

Kenya’s choice for the worst option for energy – coal

Above: The 19th century Friday Mosque in Shella on Lami Island – copyright Rupi Mangat

Published The East African/Nation media – 12-19 May 2017

It’s a sweltering April afternoon. We’re inside the ‘box’, a term used by the locals in Kwasasi in Lamu county. The ‘box’ is a 900-acre tract of bushland scattered with centuries-old baobab trees and abandoned farms. It’s now marked with cemented beacons.

Few Kenyans beyond Kwasasi have ever heard of it because it is so remote – yet it is the proposed site for Lamu Coal Plant – something that will irrevocably change the face of the Lamu Archipelago in the Indian Ocean – forever and beyond repair.

On the right hand side of the murram road, we’re outside the ‘box’ with a community of Bajuni fishers and small-scale farmers meeting with a team from Save Lamu, a CBO registered in 2012.

At Kwasasi - Save Lamu - a coalition of more then 36 local Community-based organizations fighting to stop the coal plant - copyright Maya Mangat
At Kwasasi – Save Lamu – a coalition of more then 36 local Community-based organizations fighting to stop the coal plant – copyright Rupi Mangat

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On the Isles of Lamu

Part 1 of 3

Above: Siyu Fort is the only fort known to have been built by the locals under the thriving sultanate of Bwana Mataka bin Oman Famau in the 19th century -copyright picture Maya Mangat.

It’s neap tide.

Captain Lalli of Kenya Wildlife Service, with whom l sailed five years ago to Kiunga Marine National Reserve is at the Lamu pier in his speedboat christened, Pweza for octopus. As the crow flies or the turtle swims, it’s a distance of 50 kilometers northwards. The 270 square-kilometer marine reserve borders the south side of Somalia.

Continue reading “On the Isles of Lamu”

On the Isles of Lamu

Part 1 of 3

Published Saturday magazine, Nation newspaper 20 May 2017

Above: Siyu Fort – the only fort known to have been built by the locals under the thriving sultanate of Bwana Mataka bin Oman Famau in the 19th century – Pate Island. Copyright: Maya Mangat

It’s neap tide.

Captain Lalli of Kenya Wildlife Service, carefully steering his speedboat christened, Pweza for octopus through the narrow mangrove channal to Siyu - Picture copyright: Maya Mangat.
Captain Lalli of Kenya Wildlife Service, carefully steering his speedboat christened, Pweza for octopus through the narrow mangrove channal to Siyu – Picture copyright: Maya Mangat.

Captain Lalli of Kenya Wildlife Service, with whom l sailed five years ago to Kiunga Marine National Reserve is at the Lamu pier in his speedboat christened, Pweza for octopus. As the crow flies or the turtle swims, it’s a distance of 50 kilometers northwards. The 270 square-kilometer marine reserve borders the south side of Somalia.

The plan is to stop at the isle of Pate – the largest in the Lamu archipelago to see the recently restored Siyu Fort and more.

It’s a beautiful morning with a blazing sun shining on the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Captain Lalli eases the boat though the dredged Kililana Channal between mainland Africa and Manda island. Towering cranes and gigantic Chinese ships come into sight at the new Lamu Port being built. It’s a veritable industrial area popping out of the sea – where five years ago it was pristine mangrove forest.

In the sweltering heat, two hours later, we reach the hidden inlet into Siyu. The tide is going out, our Captain hops off and carefully pulls the boat over sharp coral rag to the impressive fort with tall turrets where guards were positioned to watch out for the enemy – the Omani Arabs and the Portuguese.

Siyu Fort is the only fort known to have been built by the locals under the thriving sultanate of Bwana Mataka bin Oman Famau in the 19th century.

The local guide materializes, unlocks the padlock on the flimsy wire fence and begins his narration of the battles fought. Past the rumbling mosque of coral and up the steps to the high turrets he points to a patch left un-plastered where a sentry might have whiled away time etching dhows on it.

Siyu Fort - the only fort known to have been built by the locals under the thriving sultanate of Bwana Mataka bin Oman Famau in the 19th century - Pate Island. Copyright: Maya Mangat
Siyu Fort – the only fort known to have been built by the locals under the thriving sultanate of Bwana Mataka bin Oman Famau in the 19th century – Pate Island. Copyright: Maya Mangat

Siyu is thought to have sprung up in the 13th century. In the 15th century, the Chinese sailor Zheng He sailed to it and passed by Malindi where the Sultan presented him with a giraffe to take to the emperor. When they landed in China, the Chinese were astounded for never had they seen such a creature. Zheng He even dedicated a poem to the giraffe.

Local lore had it that his ‘junk’ (Chinese ship) sunk here in 1415 and the survivors settled in Siyu. They married the Siyu women – something proven by recent DNA testing on the locals and from archaeological digs. Another one is of Indians shipwrecked here around the same time – and the carved wooden doors of Siyu feature the same features from northern India.

By the 17th century Siyu was the largest and most powerful town on the island and even crushed Sultan Seyyid Said’s army of 2000 soldiers in the great battle of 1844-1845. But the wily old Sultan who had moved his capital from Oman to Zanzibar in 1840 persisted and Siyu finally came under Zanzibar.

The plan to walk through the village that is famed for its magnificent – but crumbling tombs and mosques is abandoned for the tide is really low and unless we want to stay the night, we must leave and opt to return another time.

The midday gets hotter. A faster speedboat flies past us. It’s laden with bales of miraa to Somalia. A fishing dhow sits on the water and the Bajuni fishermen show us the catch of the day – lobster and sea cucumbers with one still spurting a stream of water out of its mouth. It’s a strange creature – shaped like a cucumber – and a delicacy in many cultures. Without this strange creature the oceans would be filthier for they feed on the organic detritus lying on the ocean floor.

The fishers on the dhow have been out for hours. Skinny youths surface with snorkels in their mouths, diving for lobster and other marine animals. In Kenyan waters, local fishers can only harvest lobsters that are the size of a dinner plate and catch only what they can as long as they can hold their breath – it’s a way to control over-harvesting of lobsters by fishers wearing scuba-diving gear and wiping everything off the corals.

It’s heart breaking when they ask for ‘maji’ to drink. Our supplies are short and the journey long. Even money at this point has no meaning.

Sail to Siyu

It’s expensive sailing with hired boats but worth it – can cost anything upwards Ksh 10,000 but if you share the cost it’s cheaper. Sailing in a local dhow is a few hundred shillings and if you’re lucky and the wind blowing the right direction it can take anywhere from three hours up.

Contact National Museums of Kenya (www.museums.or.ke) and Kenya Wildlife Service (www.kws.go.ke) for advice. You can make it a bigger sail all the way to Kiunga Marine National Reserve and camp or stay at the guest house – carry food and water – although you can eat local too.

The heat can be killing – so be prepared.

If you love history, crumbling ruins and water – this is the place – don’t rush your visit – there are inexpensive guest houses to stay at – it’s for the intrepid.

Subira House, Lamu

A historical Swahili house restored

Published The East African 13-19 May 2017

Above – main courtyard with five arches – copyright Christina Aarts

The courtyard -copyright Rupi Mangat
The courtyard -copyright Rupi Mangat

In the historical Lamu Stone Town that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stunning Swahili houses line the narrow lanes where only two people can walk astride with the donkey – and now with changing times, the motor-bike – having the right of way. Famed for their limestone architecture and wooden carved doors, many have a story to tell.

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Chasing Waterfalls at Gatamaiyu Forest

A forest of the Kikuyu Escarpment

Published Saturday magazine, Nation newspaper 13 May 2017

Along the path in the forest that rhymes with mutamaiyu or the African olive tree or the Olea europaea (African variety) someone signals to the left and a whole bunch of humans vanish into the evergreen forest that’s part of the larger Kereita forest – a place of the warriors – on the Kikuyu escarpment.

Following the markings on the GPS the group’s looking for a stunner – the Bar-tailed trogan which l have seen at eye-level in the forests of Mount Kenya. It’s not a bird that you ordinarily find flying around – although if we did, the world would be more colourful.

A walk in the Gatamaiyu forest - - copyright Rupi Mangat
A walk in the Gatamaiyu forest – – copyright Rupi Mangat

“Gatamaiyu forest is an IBA,” tells the doyenne of all birds, the amazing Fleur Ng’weno. “It was listed as an Important Bird Area because it has a wide variety of forest highland birds and also because the Abbot’s starling is found here.”

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