Kenya's Tourism Minister questions shisha ban, closing of night clubs

Monday January 29 2018

Shisha smoking

A reveller smokes shisha at a joint in Kisii, Kenya on December 25, 2017. The country's tourism minister Najib Balala has said banning shisha and closing of night clubs would hurt the economy. PHOTO | NMG 

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Kenya's tourism minister Najib Balala has said banning shisha smoking and trade and shutting down night clubs will hurt the economy.

Mr Balala said the ban on the water-pipe tobacco imposed by outgoing Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu was a “miscalculated” move.

At the same time, Mr Balala accused the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) of pretence, saying it is closing clubs “after failing to regulate issues.”

“You do your job, we will support; but you don’t wake up overnight and ban shisha or start closing clubs. The whole world has shisha, why ban it in Kenya?

If we have issues of health, put a tax. Why don’t you ban cigarettes? Why don’t you ban alcohol? I am not a smoker so I am not defending shisha smokers,” said Mr Balala.

He spoke at a hotel in coastal town of Mombasa while responding to questions by legislators during a three-day induction retreat for the National Assembly Committee on Sports, Tourism and Culture.

The retreat ended Sunday.


Mr Balala argued that the Ministry of Health should have instead taxed the shisha businesses to generate more revenue.

“You don’t wake up overnight and close down some investments just because of your failure in enforcing rules,” he said.

“Nema for example wakes up and decides to close a night club, in the guise of noise. This is one way of frustrating investors. You mean all along they never knew this club existed?”

Despite the shisha ban, it was still being smoked in some entertainment joints in Mombasa and Kilifi counties.

Mr Balala said a number of youth have been rendered jobless following the shisha ban and closure of the clubs.

Frustrating business owners

The minister said some measures taken by government agencies ended up frustrating business owners.

“This country is a gem in terms of tourism, but we haven’t packaged it well. I can tell you the potential is there, we just have to partner and be stronger together.

“When you see a project, business or a hotel that has not been completed, know that the owner has been frustrated through the process by us in government collectively,” he said.

Mr Balala told the legislators to avoid developing and passing regulations that would scare away investors and hurt Kenya’s economy.

Kenya imposed a ban on shisha last December. Tanzania and Rwanda have also outlawed the smoking of water-pipe tobacco.