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Tusks in Mombasa
Mombasa is located in Kenya
Location of Mombasa
Coordinates: 4°03′S 39°40′E
Country  Kenya
Province Coast Province
District Mombasa District
 •  Mayor Ahmed Abubakar Mohdhar
 • City 295 km2 (114 sq mi)
 • Land 230 km2 (90 sq mi)
 • Water 65 km2 (25 sq mi)
Elevation 50 m (160 ft)
Population (1999)
 • City 707,400
 •  Urban 707,400
Time zone EAT ( UTC+3)

Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya. Lying on the Indian Ocean, it has a major port and an international airport. The city also serves as the centre of the coastal tourism industry. The original Arabic name is منبعثة 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 District, which, like most other districts in Kenya, is named after its chief town.


Mombasa at night

The city has a population of 727,842, as per the 1999-census, and is located on Mombasa Island, which is separated from the mainland by two creeks: Tudor Creek and Kilindini Harbour. 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 Causeway, 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 Airport.

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 Iran, the Middle East, Somalia 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.


Kenya–Uganda railway near Mombasa, about 1899

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 According to oral history and medieval commentaries, Shehe Mvita superseded the dynasty of Mwana Mkisi and established his own town on Mombasa Island.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 Moroccan 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 cita 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 India and China 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 Ocean 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, Yemen 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 Sofala and others which come from Cambay and Melinde and others which sail to the island of Zanzibar."

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 Portuguese. In 1502, the sultanate became independent from Kilwa Kisiwani and was renamed as Mvita (in Swahili) or Manbasa (Arabic). Portugal attacked the city again in 1528, and built Fort Jesus 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 Goa, as a stronghold on the route to Portuguese India).

In 1698, the town came under suzerainty of the Sultanate of Oman, but it became subordinate to Zanzibar, 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 British 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 Zanzibar and Muscat 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 Bahrain . Fort Jesus 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 Qatar and Bahrain, they were the original dominant group of Zubara area.

On 25 May 1887, its administration was relinquished to the British East Africa Association (see Kenya). The sultan formally presented the town in 1898 to the British. 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 became the capital of the coastal Protectorate of Kenya in 1920. In 1963 it became part newly independent Kenya.

On 28 November 2002, a suicide car bomb exploded at the Israeli-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 Airport using surface-to-air missiles; nobody was hurt on the plane, which landed safely in Tel Aviv. The main suspect for both attacks is al Qaeda (see Kenyan hotel bombing).

Geography and climate


Mombasa's North Beach

Mombasa is a major trade centre and home to Kenya's only large seaport, the Kilindini Harbour. Kilindini is an old Swahili term that means "deep". The port is so called because the channel is naturally very deep. Kilindini Harbour 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 Jesus. North of Mombasa Island are Nyali, Kenyatta, Bamburi, and Shanzu beaches. South of the town, there are Shelly, Tiwi, and Diani 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.



Moi International Airport serves the city of Mombasa. It is located in Port Reitz. Flights to Nairobi and other Kenyan and European destinations depart from the airport


Mombasa has a railway station and Kenya Railways runs overnight passenger trains from Mombasa to Nairobi, though the service is less extensive than it used to be.


Driving in Mombasa is straight-forward and the majority of the roads are tarmacked. Main roads include; Jomo Kenyatta Avenue, Digo Road, Nyerere Road, Nkurumah Road, Moi Avenu, Mama Ngina Drive, Barack Obama Road, Nairobi Road and Nyali Road

Highways connect Mombasa to Nairobi, Dar es Salaam while northward road link to Malindi and Lamu.


Taxis are common around the city and are a convenient form of transport although costly. Taxis may be found at the airport, outside most hotels, shopping malls and in the city.


Within Mombasa, most local people use Matatus (minibuses) which are extremely common in Kenya, to move around the city and its suburbs.


A Tuk-Tuk is an auto rickshaw, a motor vehicle with three wheels. It is widely used by people as a transport to move around the city and its suburbs.


A boda-boda is originally a bicycle taxi. Especially in cities, the bicycles are more and more replaced by motorbikes.


Mombasa port is the largest in Kenya. 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 operated by the Kenya Ferry Service from Kilindini and Mtongwe to Likoni in the south coast of Mombasa. Operating ferries are aged. In 1994, a ferry serving Mtongwe route sank, leaving 270+ people perished.

As a result of the major build-up of more luxurious hotels in South Coast and a lack of a direct bridge linking the South Coast to the North Coast, visiting tourists have the option of flying directly into the South Coast airstrip using the domestic airline, Air Kenya.


Moonlit boats in Mombasa


Taarab music, which originates from Zanzibar, 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

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

North Coast

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 Bridge. 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 centre. Nyali is home for the Nyali Cinemax complex,mamba village, 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).

Bamburi: 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.

Other areas include, Shanzu, Mkomani, Bombolulu, Kisauni, and Mtwapa.

South Coast

Likoni: is a lower class area connected to Mombasa Island by 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.

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


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 Changamwe and mainly accommodate the working class who either work in the industries, the town centre on the Island and the Port at Kilindini harbour.

Miritini:outlying township on the Mombasa Nairobi Highway which is first growing as a surburban area.

Changamwe: 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.

Port Reitz: Is a suburb on the mainland which contains a beach, oil refineries, housing estates etc. Moi International Airport and the Port Reitz District Hospital are in Port Reitz

Twin cities

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