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For the asteroid, see 1428 Mombasa. "Mvita" redirects here. Also see: Mvita Constituency.
"Island of War" redirects here. For the TV series, see Island at War.

Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenyamarker, lying on the Indian Oceanmarker. It has a major port and an international airport. The city is the centre of the coastal tourism industry. The original Arabic name is Manbasa; in Swahili it is called Kisiwa Cha Mvita (or Mvita for short), which means "Island of War", due to the many changes in its ownership. The town is also the headquarters of Mombasa Districtmarker which, like most other districts in Kenya, is named after its chief town.


The city has a population of 727,842, as per the 1999-census, and is located on Mombasa Islandmarker, which is separated from the mainland by two creeks: Tudor Creekmarker and Kilindini Harbourmarker. The island is connected to the mainland to the north by the Nyali Bridge, to the south by the Likoni Ferry and to the west by the Makupa Causewaymarker, alongside which runs the Uganda Railway. The port serves both Kenya and countries of the interior, linking them to the Ocean. The town is served by Moi International Airportmarker.

The town is mainly occupied by the Muslim Mijikenda/Swahili people. Over the centuries, there have been many immigrants and traders who settled in Mombasa, particularly from Iranmarker, the Middle East, Somaliamarker and the Indian sub-continent, who came mainly as traders and skilled craftsmen. Even after four or five generations, their descendants continue to contribute highly to the economy of present day Mombasa and Kenya as a whole.

Traditional dress for the Swahili women is a brightly coloured, printed cotton sheet called a kanga, which may have inspirational slogans printed on it. Muslim women wear a covering known as a bui bui, that is traditionally black, along with a head covering called a hijaab, and sometimes wear a veil called a nikab. Men wear a type of sarong, which is coloured in bright bands, called a kikoi.


The founding of Mombasa is associated with two rulers: Mwana Mkisi (female) and Shehe Mvita. According to oral history and medieval commentaries, Shehe Mvita superseded the dynasty of Mwana Mkisi and established his own town on Mombasa Island. Shehe Mvita is remembered as a Muslim of great learning and so is connected more directly with the present ideals of Swahili culture that people identify with Mombasa. The ancient history associated with Shehe Mvita and the founding of an urban settlement on Mombasa Island is still linked to present-day peoples living in Mombasa. The Thenashara Taifa (or Twelve Nations) Swahili lineages recount this ancient history today and are the keepers of local Swahili traditions. Even though today Mombasa is a very heterogeneous cultural mix, families associated with the Twelve Nations are still considered the original inhabitants of the city.

Most of the early information on Mombasa comes from Portuguese chroniclers writing in the 16th century. The famous Moroccanmarker scholar and traveller Ibn Battuta did visit Mombasa in 1331 on his travels on the eastern coast of Africa and made some mention of the city, although he only stayed one night. He noted that the people of Mombasa were Shãfi'i Muslims, "a religious people, trustworthy and righteous. Their mosques are made of wood, expertly built."

The exact founding date of the city is unknown, but it has a long history. It must have been already a prosperous trading town in the 12th century, as the Arab geographer Al Idrisi mentions it in 1151. During the pre-modern period, Mombasa was an important centre for the trade in spices, gold, and ivory. Its trade links reached as far as Indiamarker and Chinamarker and oral historians today can still recall this period of local history. Throughout the early modern period, Mombasa was a key node in the complex and far reaching Indian Oceanmarker trading networks, its key exports then were ivory, millet, sesamum and coconuts. In the late pre-colonial period (late 19th century), it was the metropolis of a plantation society, which became dependent on slave labour (sources contradict whether the city was ever an important place for exporting slaves) but ivory caravans remained a major source of economic prosperity. Mombasa became the major port city of pre-colonial Kenya in the Middle Ages and was used to trade with other African port cities, Persia, Arab traders, Yemenmarker and even India. 15th century Portuguese voyager Duarte Barbosa claimed, "[Mombasa] is a place of great traffic and has a good harbour in which there are always moored small craft of many kinds and also great ships, both of which are bound from Sofalamarker and others which come from Cambaymarker and Melinde and others which sail to the island of Zanzibarmarker."

The great Chinese fleet of Zheng He is supposed to have visited Mombasa around 1415.

Vasco da Gama was the first known European to visit Mombasa, receiving a chilly reception in 1498. Two years later, the town was sacked by the Portuguesemarker. In 1502, the sultanate became independent from Kilwa Kisiwanimarker and was renamed as Mvita (in Swahili) or Manbasa (Arabic). Portugal attacked the city again in 1528, and built Fort Jesusmarker in 1593 in an attempt to colonise, from which time it was governed by a Captain-major. In 1638, it formally became a Portuguese colony (subordinated to Goamarker, as a stronghold on the route to Portuguese Indiamarker).

In 1698, the town came under suzerainty of the Sultanate of Omanmarker, but it became subordinate to Zanzibarmarker, prompting regular local rebellions. Oman appointed three consecutive Governors (Wali in Arabic, Liwali in Swahili):
  • 12 December 1698–December 1698: Imam Sa'if ibn Sultan
  • December 1698–1728: Nasr ibn Abdallah al-Mazru'i
  • 1728–12 March 1728: Shaykh Rumba

Next, Mombasa returned to Portuguese rule by captain-major Álvaro Caetano de Melo Castro (12 March 1728–21 September 1729), then four new Omani Liwali until 1746, when the last of them made it independent again (disputed by Oman), as the first of its recorded Sultans:
  • 1746–1755: 'Ali ibn Uthman al-Mazru'i
  • 1755–1773: Masud ibn Naisr al-Mazru'i
  • 1773–1782: Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mazru'i
  • 1782–1811: Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Mazru'i (born 17–died 1814)
  • 1812–1823: 'Abd Allah ibn Ahmad al-Mazru'i (died 1823)
  • 1823–1826: Sulayman ibn 'Ali al-Mazru'i

From 9 February 1824 to 25 July 1826, there was a Britishmarker protectorate over Mombasa, represented by Governors. Omani rule was restored in 1826; seven liwalis where appointed. On 24 June 1837, it was nominally annexed by sultan of Zanzibarmarker and Muscatmarker Sayyid Said bin Sultan with the assistance of Shaikh Isa bin Tarif with his tribe Original Utub Al Bin Ali . Isa bin Tarif, Chief of the Al bin Ali Al Utbi Tribe, is a descendant of the Original Utub who conquered Bahrainmarker . Fort Jesusmarker in Mombasa was named after Shaikh Isa bin Tarif. The name "Jesus" in Arabic means "Isa", therefore it means the Fort of Isa (Isa bin Tarif). The Al bin Ali (the tribe of Isa bin Tarif) were a politically important group that moved backwards and forwards between Qatarmarker and Bahrain, they were the original dominant group of Zubaramarker area .

On 25 May 1887, its administration was relinquished to the British East Africa Association (see Kenyamarker). The sultan formally presented the town in 1898 to the Britishmarker. It soon became the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate and is the sea terminal of the Uganda Railway, which was started in 1896. Many workers were brought in from British India to build the railway, and the city's fortunes revived. On 1 July 1895, it became part of Britain's Kenya protectorate (the coastal strip nominally under Zanzibari sovereignty).

Mombasa was part of the state of Zanzibar until 12 December 1963 when it was ceded to be incorporated into the newly independent state of Kenya.

On 28 November 2002, a suicide car bomb exploded at the Israelimarker-owned beachfront Paradise Hotel, killing three Israelis and ten Kenyans. About 20 minutes earlier, an unsuccessful attempt was made to shoot down an Arkia Israel Airlines Boeing 757 chartered tourist plane taking off from nearby Moi International Airportmarker using surface-to-air missiles; nobody was hurt on the plane, which landed safely in Tel Avivmarker. The main suspect for both attacks is al Qaeda (see Kenyan hotel bombing).

Geography and climate

Being a coastal town, Mombasa is characterised by a flat topography. The town of Mombasa is centered on Mombasa Island, but extends to the mainland. The island is separated from mainland by two creek, Port Reitzmarker in south and Tudor Creekmarker in north.

Mombasa has a warm, tropical climate. The amount of rainfall depends essentially on season. The rainiest months are April and May, while in January to February the rainfall is minimal.


Mombasa's North Beach
Mombasa is a major trade centre and home to Kenya's only large seaport, the Kilindini Harbourmarker. Kilindini is an old Swahili term that means "deep". The port is so called because the channel is naturally very deep. Kilindini Harbor is an example of a natural geographic phenomenon called a ria, formed millions of years ago when the sea level rose and engulfed a river that was flowing from the mainland.

Mombasa is the centre of coastal tourism in Kenya. Mombasa island itself is not a main attraction, although many people visit Old Town and Fort Jesusmarker. North of Mombasa Island are Nyali, Kenyatta, Bamburimarker, and Shanzu beaches. South of the town, there are Shelly, Tiwi, and Dianimarker beaches. Several luxury hotels exist on these beaches, while most of cheaper beach hotels are located farther away from the town.

Other local industries include an oil refinery and the Bamburi Cement factory.


The airport of the city is the Moi International Airportmarker. Mombasa has a railway station and Kenya Railways runs overnight passenger trains from Mombasa to Nairobimarker, though the service is less extensive than it used to be. Highways connect Mombasa to capital Nairobi, former Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaammarker while northward road link to Malindimarker and Lamumarker. Within Mombasa, most local people use Matatus (minibuses) to move between villages and Mombasa Island. Mombasa port is the largest in Kenya but there is little or no scheduled passenger service. International cruise ships frequent the port, thus giving Mombasa a "Natural Harbour."

There is no bridge between Mombasa Island and south coast, instead the distance is served by ferries from Kilindini and Mtongwe to Likonimarker in south coast. Operating ferries are aged. In 1994, a ferry serving Mtongwe route sank, leaving 270+ people perished.


Moonlit boats in Mombasa


Taarab music, which originates from Zanzibarmarker, has a prominent local presence. Recently, hip hop, reggae and bhangra have become popular, especially amongst the youth.


The Kenyan Premier League currently has one football team from Mombasa, Bandari F.C., who play at the Mombasa Municipal Stadium. Another team, Coast Stars, has recently been relegated from the league. The only Mombasa-based team to win the league is Feisal F.C., the 1965 champions.

There are several cricket teams in Mombasa. One of them is Mombasa Sports Club (MSC), whose ground was given ODI status in 2006. MSC has also a rugby union team playing in the Kenya Cup League, the premier rugby competition in Kenya. Mvita XI men and MSC ladies represent Mombasa in Kenyan field hockey leagues.

The 2007 World Cross Country Championships were held in Mombasa. Mombasa Marathon is competed annually in Mombasa. The town also hosts the biennial classic edition of Safari Rally and annually a Kenya National Rally Championship round.


Mombasa Island

Kizingo: Considered the prime residential area of Mombasa. The State House & Mombasa Golf Club are in Kizingo. The Aga Khan Academy, Serani High School, Santokben nursery school, Coast academy , Mombasa Primary school, Mama Ngina high school, Serani Primary school are part of Kizingo.

Kibokoni: Part of Old Town with Swahili architecture. Fort Jesus is in Baghani.Kuze: Part of Old Town with Swahili culture and architecture. Originally flourishing with Swahili people but currently becoming a more cosmopolitan neighbourhood.Makadara: Part of Old Town consisting of a high number of descendants of Baluchi soldiers who settled within this area before it developed into a town. The name is derived from the Arabic word Qadr-ur-Rahman meaning fate of God.

Ganjoni: Primarily residential, home of cmc, home of second biggest dry dock of Africa after the one in South Africa, Outrigger

Tudormarker: Another middle class residential area with homes and shops.

Outside Mombasa Island

Nyali: Also considered a prime and up-market residential area, it is on the mainland north of the island & is linked by the New Nyali Bridgemarker. It has numerous beach front hotels in the area known as the "North Coast". Nyali has two distinct sections - the posh Old Nyali and the upcoming New Nyali. For many residents, Nyali has now become a self-contained residential area, with two Nakumatts, a multiplex cinema, shopping malls, banks, schools and post offices. This often eliminates the need for residents to cross the bridge and to go into the congested Mombasa city center. Nyali is home for the Nyali Cinemax complex, the Nyali Golf Club, and some of the most prestigious academic institutions of the Coast Province, such as the Oshwal Academy (a fully fledged primary and secondary school) and Tiny Tots Kindergarten (Nyali's oldest and prominent educational institution specialising in early childhood development and education).

Likonimarker: is a lower class area connected to Mombasa Proper by a ferry. It is south of Mombasa Island and made up of mostly non-Swahili tribes. The ferry was the target of the Likoni Riots of 1997.

Magongo: is an outlying township 10 minutes northwest of Mombasa Island, situated on the Nairobi road. This fringe community lacks any effective electricity, water or sewer systems, with a general lack of infrastructure. Poverty, lack of sanitation, and unemployment continue to be the greatest issues for the Mikindani Township, which have ensured low health and safety standards for its residents. Poor, lower class housing is widespread, ranging from simple stone, two storey structures to mud and earth homes fitted with corrugated iron roofs. Much of the community works outside of the township, within Mombasa Island itself as there is a lack of employment and industry. There are number of small health clinics, shops, and a few public primary schools: Nazarene primary is one school, which is known in particular as being staffed by a revolving volunteer teacher base from Western, and predominately English speaking nations. This small town that serves as a link between the city and Moi International Airport. Magongo is also home to the Akamba Handicraft Cooperative.

Mikindani [a surburban area: This is an outlying township on the mainland along the Nairobi road.It is built in the heavy industrial sections of Changamwemarker and mainly accommodate the working class who either work in the industries, the town centre on the Island and the Port at Kilindini harbor.The area is vast populated with people of different walks of life, religion etc. transport and communication is very profound with very many educational institutionss in the area Kajembe Sec School and different primary schools.

Miritini:outlying township on the Mombasa Nairobi Highway which is first growing as a surburban area.Changamwemarker: Industrial area which contains the kipevu power projects, the oil refinery and housing estates. The area has administrative offices of the D.O and the chiefs who serve the contituency.

Bamburimarker: also an outlying township (fifteen minutes drive) on the way to the town of Malindi. Bamburi is the location of Bamburi Cement. Other notable features in the area are the Mijikenda public beach and Haller Park, a wildlife conservatory.

Diani Beachmarker: a beach resort situated over the Likoni Ferry on the South Coast of Mombasa.

Twin cities

Somali pirates

When the United States handed over 17 suspected pirates captured in the Gulf of Aden in June, 2009, that brought the number being held by the authorities in Mombasa to more than 100. There had been controversy over the correct legal procedures to judge pirates captured by foreign countries and handed over to Kenya. Britain handed over eight suspected pirates in November. The number of pirates threatened to overwhelm the prisons and courts of the city of Mombasa. When only ten of the 111 pirates had been convicted, Mombasa began considering transferring cases to the city of Nairobi.

See also


  1. Hybrid Urbanism By Nezar Al-Sayyad
  2. The African Dispersal in the Deccan By Shanti Sadiq Ali
  3. The Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia by John Gordon Lorimer p451
  4. The Precis Of Turkish Expansion On The Arab Littoral Of The Persian Gulf And Hasa And Katif Affairs. By J. A. Saldana; 1904 , I.o. R R/15/1/724
  5. Arabia's Frontiers: The Story of Britain's Boundary Drawing in the Desert, John C. Wilkinson, p44
  6. Francis Thoya, "The restless ghosts of Mtongwe", Wednesday magazine, November 19, 2003.
  8. Online Directory: Kenya, Africa, Sister Cities International
  9. Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent. June 12, 2009. Captured Somali pirates are being dumped in Kenya, officials say London: The Times Online.

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