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Last Updated: Friday, 4 January 2008, 00:05 GMT
Kenyan coastal paradise smoulders
By Peter Greste
BBC News, Mombasa

"No peace," chanted the crowd of angry protesters as they stomped through Mombasa's sprawling coastal slum of Bombolulu.

Diani beach, Mombassa, Kenya. File photo
More than 500,000 people visit Kenya's coast every year

The police's answer: tear-gas grenades followed by volleys of live rounds fired into the dust cloud that rose above the mob.

So went the see-saw - the sweating, furious youths advancing, lobbing stones ahead of them between the ramshackle buildings and the police driving them back with gas, gunshots, and baton charges.

Eventually the protesters gave up, knowing that the authorities were willing to use lethal force to stop them from ever joining other isolated groups to make their broader complaint - that the election was stolen, and that they would continue to resist any government formed by the current President Mwai Kibaki.

Tourists' fears

The police tactics worked.

In many of the dirt-poor slum areas that ring the sweaty tropical port, youths tried to form groups between the shuttered shops - only to be met by ranks of armed police.

map

Each time they gathered, they were forced to disperse, and by mid-afternoon, the city had settled into a nervous, shuttered calm.

Mombasa is famous for its pristine, palm-fringed beaches and coral reefs; its cosmopolitan cultural mix and its exotic, vibrant markets.

Those are what draws more than 500,000 visitors a year from around the world to the Kenyan coast, so the disruption to city life means far more than a day without work.

I'm really, really worried
Fleur van den Driest
Wind surfing centre owner

Although few will openly say it, tour operators and hoteliers privately admit to being terrified that the notoriously fickle tourist business will collapse if the conflict continues for much longer.

For now, they are trying to continue as normal, and most tourists still in Mombasa are planning to see their holidays out.

"I decided I wouldn't let it ruin things," said Jennifer Kinnear. She had come for a big-game safari and a stay by the beach, and she flew from Britain on 1 January - in the middle of the some of the worst of the violence.

"I'm really, really worried," said Fleur van den Driest who runs ProSport, a wind surfing and kite-boarding centre on Nyali Beach to the north of the city.

"It's not so much about me, but about all my staff. I can survive this if people cancel their holidays, but [my staff] are all supporting families, and those cheques that go home each month make a huge difference. Without these jobs, I don't know what will happen," she said.

But she added that there has been no anger specifically aimed at the tourism business or foreign visitors.

The conflict has been over domestic politics, and although there is a hypothetical risk that tourists could get caught in the crossfire, so far none have done so.

Port woes

The less visible but potentially more devastating problem has been down at the port.

Mombasa is the main point of entry for supplies to most of east Africa.

No less than seven countries depend heavily on the port for everything from fuel to basic food stuffs, to imported manufactured goods. South Sudan, the eastern half of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, northern Tanzania and Kenya all need Mombasa.

Since Christmas, most transport operators have been shut down - first by the holiday season, and then by the election and its aftermath.

They simply are not willing to run fully-loaded trucks through the strife-torn areas and risk losing both the load and the vehicles to looters.

The Kenya Ports Authority managing director Abdul Mwaruwa said ships were still arriving and offloading but almost every square centimetre of spare space has been packed with containers piled four- or five-high. Nothing is leaving the port for the interior.

There are alternative routes. Tanzania's main trading hub, Dar-es-Salaam, is functioning but it was already overstretched even before Kenya's troubles began. To re-route trade will take time that some in the region simply do not have.



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