In Summary
  • Mind you, the Mecca Hotel is well away from the bustle of the town.
  • Its rooms are air-conditioned and the beds are wide and comfortable; there is a cooling breeze from the nearby sea; Ally, the manager, is an attentive, diligent and welcoming host.
  • There is no other place like it in Kismayo. Staying there, you get the distortions that come with any kind of privilege.

“Where are you going next week?” a friend asked me.

“Kismayo,” I said.

“You lucky guy!”

“Why lucky Kismayo is no Riviera.”

“No, but you will be away from the mayhem here in Nairobi.”

That chat was a couple of weeks ago. True, we live alongside Kawangware and what was happening there that weekend was horrific and deeply disturbing. But no-one, I believe, could think that Kenya could be plunged into the kind of abyss that Somalia is now slowly emerging from.

And Kismayo is no Mogadishu. One of my colleagues on the consultancy trip was visiting this port city for the first time. When we had passed smoothly through the airport arrival procedures, driven into and through the busy streets of the town, and settled in the Mecca Hotel, my friend said, “This is so different from any place I have been to in Somalia – I have been to almost every other city in the country, and this seems more relaxed than any of them.”

Mind you, the Mecca Hotel is well away from the bustle of the town. Its rooms are air-conditioned and the beds are wide and comfortable; there is a cooling breeze from the nearby sea; Ally, the manager, is an attentive, diligent and welcoming host. There is no other place like it in Kismayo. Staying there, you get the distortions that come with any kind of privilege.

If we had been bound by the regulations of our client, an international aid agency, we would not have been allowed to stay at the Mecca.

We would have been confined to staying within the protected perimeter of the airport – and, on any drive into the town, we would not have had the chance to step out of the heavily guarded vehicle unless we were parked in a heavily guarded ministry compound.

As it was, we were able to walk across the street from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources – and walk into Kismayo’s one fish market. That was because this time in Kismayo our assignment was to do with fish; it was to carry out a survey of the extent to which people eat fish, and then develop a strategy for persuading more people eat fish.

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