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The photo is an artisan, one of 300 (If I remember correctly) in an Artisan cooperative in Mombasa. He’s polishing his elephant, which he carved from a chunk of wood; the next step will be staining it. Once finished, it will be placed in the Artisan Cooperative store, a communal store where, we were told, artists share in the profits in addition to when their art sells.

One note before leaving Zanzibar and Bagamoyo, they were both Arab operated slave ports.  In past centuries, Africa was the garden where slaves were grown, for export in western Africa by Atlantic nations and for export in east Africa by Arab nations, albeit fewer in quantity and scale, slavery nonetheless.  This dark period in history was indeed a blight on a large part of the human race, not just a small handful of perpetrators. This trip clarified this point, which I think is an important one.


Mombasa is Africa’s second largest port, second to Durban South Africa, in terms of tonnage I presume.  The port facilities are under a great expansion and modernisation in its large natural harbour, reaching to being Africa’s biggest port. The city, teaming with business activity, seems to be having significant growing pains with air pollution, land use and management, construction planning and income disparity. You can’t help but notice the dark smoke from the huge chimneys of what appears to be a coal fired power plant. Be that as it may, the city works. It’s residents seem to have a purpose to their pace, a briskness to their step, they are getting things done. That is different than say Maputo, for example, where there were lots of people but nobody actually seemed to be working.

Mombasa, to western eyes, is a mix of  third world, second world and first world. Appearances are not helped by an unrelenting sun which is high in the sky and which bakes the city everyday.  The powerful sun evaporates humidity in the soil hellbent on turning it to dust, and it succeeds in this construction laden active port city.  But on the other hand, it’s unrelenting sun on properly irrigated fertile soil spawns rich vegetation and food sources, which is seen in the city’s parks. Mombasa has water problems, we were told, as it depends on 3 major water sources from surrounding plateaus and rivers, which in recent years have not been as dependable – there has been less rain – exacerbated by increasing thirst for a growing population and economy.

The Chinese are the modern day colonialists throughout east Africa. The seek land for food and trade. In the port of Mombasa, their containers and container ships are conspicuous. Remember Maputo’s $800 million bridge? The Chinese Dragon is alive and well and feeding in Africa.

The above photo of a ferry delivering workers to the other side of Mombasa’s main harbor, on their way home, near sunset.

I have video for Mombasa, including of many street scenes such as this “open air store specializing in wheel rims”. The videos are very useful to impart a sense of the city.