Collapse of Mombasa nightlife kills hopes of vibrant 24-hour economy

On Monday, one of East Africa's biggest markets, Kongowea, started to operate late into the night, signaling the county's quest to realise the 14-year dream of a 24-hour economy.

Governor Abdulswamad Nassir said the lighting of the market was complete, CCTV cameras were being installed, and more police and county inspectorate officers would be deployed to bolster security.

"We want to turn Mombasa into a 24-hour economy. We cannot expect traders to embrace it if we do not lead by example," said Mr Nassir.

Stakeholders in the hospitality sector said the county should have a marshal plan to revive the nightlife that collapsed in the mid-aughts.

"The county should revise laws that killed Mombasa nightlife. Clubs will lead to taxis, matatus, hotel and restaurant business," said Ashely Koskei, a manager at Billionaire Club.

Ms Koskei said in the 90s and early 2000s, domestic tourists used to travel to Mombasa for clubbing or nightlife, which had a domino effect on other businesses like hotels and public service transport.

"Unlike in the past when US, French and Indian marines used to come to clubs at the CBD, nowadays they stay in the ships whenever they dock in Mombasa," said Ms Koskei.

In the early aughts, nightlife roared in Mombasa, courtesy of bustling clubs like Casablanca, Mamba, Salambo, Tempo, Bingo, and Istanbul, which have since closed shop or are struggling to stay afloat.

An entertainer, DJ Mike, said if Mombasa wants a 24-hour economy, it should revive and support the nightlife like in Verona (Italy), Miami (US), or Catalonia and Andalusia in Spain.

"Soldiers from across the world who visited the Port of Mombasa flocked to clubs like Casablanca or Sky Night Club. This made Mombasa a booming 24-hour economy.

"Mombasa and the Coast counties should transform into a high-value low-density industry by creating cultural exchange centres," said DJ Mike who has worked in Germany.

Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Coast branch Executive Director Sam Ikwaye said in a recent interview that the introduction of all-inclusive packages for international tourists "encouraged a caged tourism mentality, killing Mombasa nightlife."

Ikwaye said nightlife "adds freshness to tourist destinations", adding that Mombasa has become "predictable and boring" and that there was a need for vibrancy in the city's economy."

The Mombasa County Assembly also passed liquor licensing laws said to be more stringent than the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act (2010), also known as the 'Mututho Laws'.

"Mututho Laws came with undesirable costs on tourist towns. The cost of operating a bar or club in Mombasa is higher than in Nairobi," said Julius Ogogoh, a human rights activist.

Mr Ogogoh, who has sued the county over its licensing requirements, said costs were raised because of a "misplaced notion" that the city was an Islamic town.

Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mombasa branch CEO James Kitavi said a 24-hour economy faces peculiar challenges.