Lamu Island at risk of losing World Heritage site status


Rich foreigners are making massive purchases of buildings on Lamu Island in Kenya, Africa, and this is putting the island in danger of losing its World Heritage site status. This buying spree by affluent foreigners, which includes Hollywood stars and a huge number of local wealthy and well-connected individuals, has left the island vulnerable to further exploitation.

The National Museums of Kenya director general Idle Farah said most of the foreign fat cats descended on the island, buying out ancient and historical buildings once it was listed as a world heritage site by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2001.

Mr. Farah said many islanders were living in grinding poverty and could not resist the temptation of selling their houses to well-off foreigners ready to pay fortunes for the properties.

“Lamu is one of the World Heritage sites in danger of losing its rich culture and traditions owing to large-scale sale of old buildings by locals to wealthy foreigners,” said the museum director.

“Once Unesco listed the island as a World Heritage site, monied foreigners, including Hollywood greats, began fighting for ownership of buildings here. The culture will be wiped out if the trend continues.”

He said although the National Museums of Kenya and Lamu County Council had been sensitizing the islanders on the need to stop selling their properties, the problem still persists.

“If foreigners take over the buildings, it means the Lamu people will have to leave. A foreign culture will set in and rip apart the heritage of this historical island,” added Mr. Farah.

He made the remarks in Mombasa on the sidelines of a museum directors’ seminar, which was attended by participants from 30 sub-Saharan countries.