(AA) – Nominated Senator Emma Mbura of Mombasa County believes that if the women of her Mijikenda tribe in Kenya’s coastal region go topless it will help revive the local tourism industry – a suggestion that has drawn the rebuke of many Kenyans.
“Our culture and traditional dress are what attract tourists to our coast,” Mbura told The Anadolu Agency in an interview.
“There were times when you would enter a hotel and find our girls dance traditional Mijikenda dances. They would dance bare-chested, with their firm breasts for all to see,” she said.
“How will we attract back the tourists back if all our women are wearing modern clothes like jeans and miniskirts?” asked Mbura, herself a member of the Mijikenda tribe.
She said that when tourists come to Mombasa, they want to visit the Old Town and eat traditional Swahili and Arab food.
“And if they go to Mijikenda towns and villages, they want to see the traditional dress of the Mahando,” she added.
Mijikenda women, like many other African tribes in Kenya, went topless before the arrival of the Arabs and British colonizers and the ensuing spread of Islam and Christianity.
“When the Mijikenda started wearing clothes, tourism slumped – besides the impact of insecurity,” Mbura, a Christian, said on Facebook on Tuesday.
She told AA that her suggestion was meant to help the local tourism sector, still reeling from a spate of recent terrorist attacks.
“I only want to see the tourism sector revamped,” the lawmaker insisted. “The coast depends on tourism. It has been a difficult ride for many locals since tourists stopped visiting.”
She added: “I once worked at a hotel and lost my job when tourists stopped coming, so I know what it feels like.”
Kenya’s coastal region is known for its sandy beaches, its historical Swahili-Arab heritage sites and its cultural diversity.
Recent attacks – blamed on Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militant group and rising militancy among the youth – have led several western countries to issue travel advisories to their citizens against travelling to the area.
After agriculture, tourism represents Kenya’s second biggest foreign currency earner.
Mbura’s suggestion has drawn the rebuke of many Kenyans.
“This is a culture of the past; the dignity of women must be maintained,” Sheikh Abdullah al-Mandhry, a Muslim religious leader in Mombasa, told AA.
“The senator’s suggestion borders on immoral,” he asserted. “This is pushing our women to prostitution in the name of saving of our economy.”
The Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association (MCTA) likewise criticized the proposal.
“The senator’s statement was unfortunate,” Millie Odhiambo, CEO of the MCTA, told AA. “How will we classify this when marketing our destination?”
“It’s a product that isn’t marketable and not sustainable. We also reject it on moral grounds,” insisted Odhiambo. “On the contrary, it will lower or standards as a world-class destination.”
Local social media, meanwhile, has been abuzz with debate over Mbura’s suggestion.
“Someone tell Senator Emma Mbura that nudity isn’t the answer to everything,” Betty Waitherero, a popular Kenyan blogger, tweeted. “I blame thinking based on genitalia.”
A twitter account under the name “Mr B” called on Senator Mbura to “lead by example on her tourist attraction suggestion.”
Another commentator, Sir Chege wa KImani, blasted Mbura’s critics.
“Kenyans are funny. You shouted from rooftops, ‘my dress, my choice’ – now you condemn Emma Mbura,” KImani tweeted, in reference to recent protests by women and rights activists following a spate of attacks on women wearing miniskirts.
“What changed?” KImani asked.