Celebrating East African Writing!


All cities everywhere have their quirks, their molded mannerisms and defining features. The thing you put on the back of a postcard and send to your friends stranded at home as incontrovertible evidence to your travels. The thing that you get photographed next to and put on your facebook if you own an interweb.

If you went to Malindi you would be photographed with an Italian injecting heroin into you as he pats your bottom. In Kisumu you would get photographed dodging teargas since it is betwixt and between riots. You will either get on the camera with a burning tire next to you or on you. In Eldoret it is fashionable- I’m informed to get a church in the background preferably after the smoke has cleared.

What of Mombasa, my beautiful city? Shorts are de rigueur, coconut shell in hand an important accessory and the ocean in the background a must. You could also get your photo taken at the Fort. The fort is a reminder to a by-gone era in the world when Kenya or more importantly Mombasa meant something to the world. Mombasa has gone from making history on a global stage to curating it in museums.

The one thing that is truly outstanding about the coastal town is the ferry.

All major modern travel vehicles are made for the military. Cars are the preferred beast of burden for the infantry. Tanks have no civilian use unless of course you are in Mogadishu where it can be your home on wheels since it has armour. Commercial Airplanes did not pick up till after world war two where they were used by the allies for the greatest feat of aerial bombardment flattening the Reich. The fires of Dresden have never been surpassed in luminosity or voraciousness. Submarines have had little use apart from espionage, warfare and the odd national geographic research documentary. Space has always been explored first and foremost because it was the medium for intercontinental ballistic missile launches during the cold war. There was a time when naval power said who ruled the day, but the battlefield is now by and large aerial. Ships are good but planes are fly.

But a ferry? It is slow, cumbersome, rusty, hard to protect and open to attack by sea, air, land and underwater. That is a no-no for the military. It is a sitting duck, a paraplegic without his prosthetic legs, harder to disguise than an American accent and just as burdensome.

Yet the greatest military achievement of all time, the stepping stone to freedom, the assault on Hitler’s fortress Europe was done on the back of this cumbersome behemoth. The vehicle of choice for operation Overlord was the single ended ferry. This was the equivalent of our savior Jesus Christ, (for indeed the allies were the world’s saviours from tyranny), riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.

You get to Likoni crossing, you feel caged, driven on in a sloping cattle kraal by the sea of humanity that descends upon you. There is a gate to your front and an alfresco antechamber sloped with the ocean waiting a few metres away. It feels like you are human cattle going to descend into a large dip. You get a sense of what the Jews felt to have been herded in controlled environments by Nazis as they await transport to labour camps in the “special trucks”. “Where, good sir, is the exhaust pipe to the ferry?” I’m tempted to ask.

A large Tele-advertiser belches at you to buy some useless product. You can’t move out and are bombarded with continuous adverts, this is what I call a captive and a voice, the voice tells you to match forward. Your Chariot awaits.

If anyone needed concrete proof that the government should get out of the transport business, he should try using the ferry as a pedestrian. The ferry is slow, pitifully inadequate, sick inducing, terribly run, unreliable and above all dangerous.

In Greek mythology, the ferry man Charon, used to use his craft to ferry people across the river Styx from the world of the living to the world of the dead. Ferries have also acted as modern day Charon’s ferrying the living to the world of the dead.

The Mtongwe ferry disaster remains fresh in the memory of Kenyans. The current ferries were acquired in 1990, and have been stuttering for a long time. Breakdowns, drifting into the open ocean and delays are the order of the day. But new ones are coming – from Germany.

Germans are very good at sinking ships and are also expert shipbuilders. Considering of course their North Atlantic U boat terror campaign in World War 2 and their impressive super-ship Bismarck which was the largest warship ever commissioned. The Bismarck like the Titanic was “unsinkable.” Yet like the titanic it never sailed for more than one voyage. Before being retired to that famous shipyard that is the ocean floor in a week no less. I wonder if the Reich could make our new ferries could similarly be “Unsinkable”? Is it also impervious to U- boat attacks? Kenya ferry services please let us know.

You finally walk onto the prow and into the ferry, your chariot across the channel. The ferry is double ended because the channel is only five hundred or so metres long. The heat is intense, you feel like you are in Lucifer’s underpants as he seats on the throne of hell after a particularly lavish serving of Indian curry. Before you start moving the stench is unbelievable. You feel like you were in a sweatshop- one that actually sold sweat. Sweat is everywhere. Might this somehow be the eco- friendly ferry ever? I mean it was green in colour. Could it perhaps in a feat of biochemical wizardry, be fuelled by human sweat? Only a slight pong as the waste product?

Eh No. the smell of diesel hits you as the leviathan begins to growl, belching turns of acrid pillars of smoke into the air. Waste disposal when it comes to ferries is atrocious. The water near the quay had a thin film of oil and this being a major water way, it is only a matter of time before the locals start using the sea water as a more potent alternative to kerosene for their jikos.

Inside the ferry- even the legendary escape artist Harry Houdini would find this space limiting. You probably need a spatula to separate yourself from the next man. Nowhere else does the government show this much disdain for its citizenry. It is not feel- free travel this is frill-free travel. No extra room, little seating and the crew want as little interaction with the public as possible. All of a sudden I realize government hospitals aren’t that bad, are they? Shut up and enjoy it pedestrian it is free- transportational manna from the lords in Kenya Ferry Service. Suckling on the teats of Transom house kindness and you must enjoy it or go overboard.

It must be privatized, even Charon in Hades does not ferry people into the land of the dead for free. For services to improve, someone is going to have to cough up some money.

In the ocean rusting is the chief source of corrosion and the metal underneath the ferry is well protected by a dense layer of rust. If this rust were to be removed, then the metal underneath would corrode. So they let it fester like a cancer. Inoperable without doing damage to the host.

Security. This being a major conduit between the island and the mainland, the ferry does see a lot of tourist traffic. So one can see the attraction with terrorists. The worrying thing is that no one frisks you or even eye balls as you board the ferry. And crowd control on the deck of the ship seems impossible. So the ferry in my opinion is a sitting duck, one well placed explosive next to the fuel tanks – which are interestingly kept in full view- and we could find ourselvesscattered on the ocean floor. However the logistical nightmare of searching an approximate 200000 people who use the ferry daily seems daunting.

When Richard Reid put a bomb in his shoes, he made it impossible for anyone to travel to other countries with smelly socks. Since now they even check your shoes- and if your socks are smelly they might mistake it for a biological agent and you might end up in Git-mo. In 2006, they tried to sneak liquid explosives onto a plane – so now there is a

limit as to how much liquids one can carry. Well recently a man tried to kill Saudi prince Mohammed bin Nayef with a bomb in his anus. So if my call for security is heeded it will soon have men in white surgical gloves on the lines checking people. “Right now sir could you please bend over?”

“Sure thing while you’re down there, could you please check my prostrate, I’ve been meaning to go to the doctors, just never got the time.”And I’m sure if you are Frank you will urge him to take his time.

If that comes to pass I will never travel by ferry or air because unlike City Hall I like to keep my “Manholes,” covered.

Speaking of Frank, his latest piece suffers from an extreme case in tourette Syndrome i.e. words coming out unplanned, a gimicky title, and more diversions than Thika road.

The coxswain looks disinterested, the water a bit choppy and the pace gentle. The journey is short enough to prevent you from getting sea sick but long enough to rethink your life’s purpose. Cars out first, then carts then the human cargo. You get to the freedom of terra firma and relief hits you. The ferry is dreadful. Road is good, air is acceptable, ferry deplorable. 4 wheels good, 2 wings bad and one ferry despicable.

The only worse ferry experience was probably when Churchill sent ships and ferries to get troops in Dunkirk after the blitzkrieg knocked Britain out of Europe.

©Waga Waga 2010 Find Waga Waga Here!

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.



  1. Kyt
    January 20, 2010

    Awaiting disaster in the making that is the ferry. Will people have to die so that the government acts?


  2. wangechi
    January 20, 2010

    This piece is well written & apt especially at this time when ferries at the coast have been stalling. I am voting 8.


  3. roundsquare
    January 20, 2010

    the cattle queues, even at midnight, or during heavy rains, woe unto you, from alighting, to boarding the ferry, is a comedy of errors.

    the satire is superb. vivid. lively. poignant. everything. would love to read more of this wagger wagger bway!

    when would this $500m monster from Germany docking?

    you have my 10.


  4. John Robert Ngugi
    January 21, 2010

    I believe the Gorvernment will purchase one or two dubai ferries but with one condition if some people will drown will the old ones.

    Take my 9


  5. faith nancy
    January 24, 2010

    12 out of 10!brilliant piece!he could write about the manufacturing of glue and i’d lap it up!kudos!


  6. lissing
    February 1, 2010

    …even the legendary escape artist Harry Houdini would find this space limiting….
    really? you’re hilarious… paint a picture well ‘manholes’ and whatnots- 10!


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