The tourism industry on the coast of Kenya is struggling after high unemployment rates and terrorist attacks helped slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the country’s GDP.
Nowhere is this more evident than the island of Lamu, in the far north-east of the country.
The island’s proximity to Somalia has unsurprisingly worked against it, and there are hotels that have been mothballed, perhaps optimistically waiting for the wazungu (white people) to return.
Keziah Mumbi manages three hotels on the island of Lamu. One is mothballed and not even open, another is open for business but there is no-one there, and the other has an occupancy rate of about 20 per cent.
She said two years ago they were closer to 80 per cent.
“We are not busy at all. Since last year there were attacks in June, and we had a lot of cancellations,” she said.
“Business went down. The bookings were cancelled because of … the security situation.”
But Ms Mumbi said international travel advisories were killing the local tourism industry.
“That’s what I feel. I think they are unfair,” she said.
“This is a global [problem] it’s not a Kenyan problem. Terrorism can happen to anybody.”
One of those to feel the brunt personally is Amos Daniel, who moved to Lamu from Malindi, another coastal tourist town further south, for work.
But the move turned sour when he was sacked last year.
“It was disappointing when I was told on that day to go home,” he said.
“It’s not me alone who was laid off. We had about 20 people who were laid off that day. It was very sad for all of us.
“All of us were upset. Some of us cried.”
Unemployment driving desperation
Lamu town, perched on the edge of the Indian Ocean, is beautiful. Streets are narrow and there are no cars.
There are multiple influences, elements of Swahili, Somali and Arabic cultures. In places the architecture is impressive, with architraves and doors carved out of hardwood by hand.
Every morning along the waterfront young men wander in search of jobs.
They might get lucky and get a job on a fishing dhow, or they might be needed to ferry passengers to the mainland or to one of the other islands.
Most of them do not get lucky though, with unemployment a real problem.
Several times I was approached to help out the fishermen. They sounded like the same small scale scams people try everywhere.
“I need 450 shillings (six dollars) to repair the sail on my dhow” and “I need 400 shillings to buy bait to so I can go fishing”.
When there is no safety net, unemployed people become desperate. There have been studies that show desperation can drive extremism. After all, the Somalia-Kenya Border is just three hours by boat from Lamu.
The terrorist group Al Shabaab has launched its latest recruitment campaign aimed squarely at disaffected youth beyond the borders of Somalia.
The campaign shows news footage from the massacres in Mpeketoni, Mandera and Hindi. These are the attacks that prompted the western travel advisories.
The voice of a radical Sheikh can be heard over the footage.
“Today I want to tell you how it should be,” he said.
“You should try and go to Somalia and Al Shabaab will receive you. That’s how you can support the Qua’ran.”
Al Shabaab recruiting unemployed workers
In Lamu we met a man who did just that. He decided to go from his home in Lamu to Somalia to join Al Shabaab.
Hassan had no job when he left and stayed with the terrorist group for four years.
“It was hard. You don’t go there just to sit down. You go there to learn things,” he said.
“Like playing with AKs (AK47 assault rifles) bombs and things like that. You’re learning about military things.”
Hassan had a crisis of conscience when he was asked to kill innocent people.
He and two friends walked out of the military-style camp they were in and crossed back in Kenya in the middle of last year.
He said he was continuously looking over his shoulder.
“I worry every day. When I sleep, when I wake up. Even now I’m worried,” he said.
But Hassan’s story is not unique. There have been reports in the Kenyan media in recent days that another two Kenyan men (and two Tanzanians) have been arrested trying to cross the border into Somalia to join Al Shabaab.
Hassan said he was paid 40,000 Kenyan Shillings (about $530) when he joined.
For an unemployed person living on 100 or 200 shillings a day, that is an extraordinary amount of money.
When the travel advisories are in place, tourists stay away and that perpetuates the unemployment problem. It is a vicious cycle.