There are reports that Likoni channel will finally get a bridge with the project expected to commence sometime this year. This is a very welcome development. The bridge together with the Dongo Kundu bypass is going to usher in unprecedented positive economic impact in that region. It will also alleviate the daily suffering of thousands of people who depend on the ferries to cross the channel.
Anybody who has been to Mombasa once or twice will term the Likoni ferry as an epic experience but I am telling you, it is not always fun. Actually, it is no fun at all. When you have to use the ferry Monday through Sunday to and from the Island, you come to unreservedly loathe the experience. Every aspect of the ferry sucks from being packed like sardines in the waiting bays in the sweltering Mombasa heat to the ensuing stampede that occurs when the waiting bay barriers are released to the ride on the ferry itself.
Sometimes the vessels stall and drift with the current. On a good day the drift will be towards Kipevu. On a bad day, it will be towards Oman. You will be extremely petrified forcing you to say a silent prayer to God of Abraham but upon realizing that Abraham never ventured to sea and that the only sea near his home place was dead, you change tune and call upon the God of Vasco Dagama imploring him to ‘walk’ with you the same way he ‘walked’ with the Portuguese sailor of old. You remind God that He swore, after Noah’s flood, to never again ‘finish’ his people with water. (By the way, did God ever make such a swearing?) You swear that if He gets you through this looming disaster, you will become an obedient sheep who tithes as required and never again will you hold the preachers on-board the ferry or any other man of God out there in disdain.
Often, when a vessel is tossed by the unforgiving waves and swept by the wind towards Sri Lanka, It takes up to three long hours out there in the deep sea before the situation is salvaged. Sometimes by the KFS engineers, other times by the vessel coming back to its senses by itself but often times through sheer good luck where the winds and the waves push the vessel to shallow waters near Mama Ngina drive where folks can disembark and wade their way to safety. These will be three full agonizing hours of which ominous waves toss the vessel up and down as it struggles to stay upright, occasionally escaping by a whisker a collision with a port-bound or an outbound ship. Remember that some ships using the Mombasa port are so enormous that sporting a drifting ferry in close quarters is as easy as it is for an elephant to spot a flea on its skin.
I mostly pity the mkokoteni fellas ferrying goods from either side of the channel. They engage in a dangerous affair struggling from early morning to late afternoon trying to painstakingly zigzag inch by inch with a cart carrying several pickup-truck-loads of cargo up the ramp while singing Msenangu and other coastal tunes. No way will the cart go up the ramps, which steep to almost perpendicular, on a straight path uphill. The only way is spiral. This is not an easy task and it is not for the faint hearted. A simple drop in concentration would see them all plunge into the sea together with their overloaded carts. Kales and green maize are already dry by the time the fellas are done going up the ramp. Warus have turned green ready to germinate as a result of overexposure to the searing sun. Lunch time finds the guys still pushing and pulling and blocking (from hurtling to the sea) the carts with every sinew in their bodies stretched and nerves strained. Remember they can’t pause for lunch nor for the much need recharge as you all know what this would mean.
With this bridge, it will be a reprieve to the traders and also the residents of Likoni and the nearby townships like Ngombeni and Shika Adabu as goods and fresh supplies from Kongowea market will be transported with ease arriving to the grocery stalls in time and probably on the cheap.
The other group that suffer most are the taxi and tour operators ferrying guests from south coast to Moi airport Mombasa. You can imagine the kind of trepidation that these guys go through when they are delayed by a couple of hours while carrying jungus who have flights to catch. Guests majority who are used to systems going like clockwork in their home countries. And here you are in a boat, with dead engines, that thinks it can take them home by sea instead. It is one thing dealing with a group of Kenyans who are used to poor services, inconveniences as well as playing dice with death all their lives but a different kettle of fish when it comes to dealing with foreigners who cannot tolerate our backwardness.
The lecturing and jeering that ensues is demeaning to say the least. Delayed and cancelled flights are the order of the day. This also culminates into losses on the tour operators’ part because once a guest misses a flight, the concerned tour operator has to provide for accommodation until an alternative is worked out. Accommodation that was not part of the initial budget has to be provided for these guests further eating into the profit figure.
With these two pieces of infrastructure, it will be smooth sailing to and from the south coast bringing to an end decades of untold suffering for the locals and people touring the area. And when this is done, let the national government or the county government open a museum where some of these maritime artifacts like MV Mvita and MV Pwani will be kept for future public viewing . I am told that some of the ferries were commissioned by Seyyid Said.