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Mombasa’s Fort Jesus could soon fall into the sea, warns agency

COUNTIES
By Philip Mwakio | August 5th 2015
Sea view of the historical Fort Jesus in Old town, Mombasa County. The National Museums of Kenya wants Sh100 million to construct a seawall around the fort. [PHOTOS: MAARUFU MOHAMED AND FILE/STANDARD]

MOMBASA: Over Sh100 million is required to safeguard the foundation of the historical Fort Jesus Museum.

According to the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), the cliff on which the fort stands is slowly being eroded by sea waters.

NMK wants to use the money to erect a wall to prevent the waters from reaching the museum’s foundation.

NMK Museums and Monument Assistant Director (coastal region) Athman Hussein, expressed fears that if a sea wall barrier is not constructed, the fast rising sea water levels will erode the underneath layer and expose the historical site to danger of collapsing.

Fort Jesus was built in 1591 by the Portuguese who had seized control of the East African coast, as base to wade off the Omani invaders from Mombasa. It was also used as a prison.

The Omani, however, captured the coastal town in 1698 after a three year siege. Colonial British authorities later declared the former prison a historical monument.

VERGE OF COLLAPSE

Classified under the Unesco World Heritage site, Fort Jesus, just like other monuments built by the Portuguese in Malindi and other parts of the East African coast, has fallen into disrepair and is hreatened by the erosion by the sea waters.

Making the appeal for the money, NMK announced that the Fort requires urgent measures to protect it from disintegrating into the Indian Ocean.

“Already, a large part of the area bordering the fort on the sea side and which is atop a hanging cliff is loosely chipping off,” said Mr Hussein.

He noted that after many years of sea wave action against the rocky surface, it is important that some form of artificial barrier was required if the site was to be safe.

Hussein said a huge hole that is on one side of the cliff, just before the ocean, is a threat to the site’s stability.

“We shall be floating a tender to invite contractors to carry out work to put up a sea wall,” he said.

The area is noted for its windswept landscape, constantly shifting sands and eroding coastline. Years of erosion has brought the Indian Ocean waters too close to the monument.

Hassan noted that apart from Fort Jesus Museums, another coastal monument of immense historical importance located in Malindi that also faces sea erosion is the Vasco Da Gamma Pillar.

TOURIST ATTRACTION

The cross surmounting the pillar was tested a few years ago and found to be made of Lisbon limestone.

The Vasco da Gama pillar attracts thousands of local and international visitors, and is also regarded as a landmark for Malindi.

Hussein said as a result of the strong sea waves, the coral rock has cracked, right in the middle on the ocean side and can break any time and disappear into the ocean.

Some huge coral blocs have already broken and are now on the sea bottom.

Only a small strip remains where the the pillar still stands on.

He disclosed that NMK has set aside Sh50 million to carry out works to stabilise the Da Gamma pillar.

The planned renovations come at a time when NMK Director General Mzalendo Kibunjia had revealed that the agency has a debt of Sh800 million and was on the verge of insolvency.

During a meeting with the Public Investment Committee, Dr Kibunjia said NMK has perennial poor record-keeping, which has resulted in numerous queries by the Auditor General.

“We are facing unprecedented problems. Unless we get a rescue package, we will be on our knees soon,” Kibunjia told the committee chaired by Eldas MP Adan Keynan.

He said some of the donors the parastatal used to rely on to manage historical sites and fund projects have withdrawn due to financial mismanagement.

He said some historical sites require urgent maintenance, adding that Fort Jesus, which requires Sh100 million for renovation was allocated Sh20 million. “Fort Jesus is almost going into the ocean,” Kibunjia told the MPs.

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