Sunday, June 24, 2012
US TRAVEL WARNINGS: WHY KENYA IS NOT AMUSED
The advisory did not mince words. The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi claims to have received information of an imminent threat of a terrorist attack in Mombasa. The US government officials travel to Mombasa is now suspended till July 1st 2012. And its citizens advised to consider this information in their traveling planning. Translation: they are better off not traveling to Kenya.
And the impact was instant. The British government, quoting the US warning, also advised its nationals to exercise extra caution and vigilance when considering visiting Coastal Kenya and much of North Eastern Province, and even parts of Nairobi which it described as ‘low income.’ They did not stop there, their citizens were asked to see their travel advice before traveling to any other part of Kenya.
This is a big blow to Kenya’s tourism business especially because the Coast attracts the bulk of Kenya’s tourists from the US and Europe. 2010 was Kenya’s most successful tourism year in history, with over 1 million tourists visiting. The government earned 73.68 billion shillings over the same period, and then tourism Minister set a target of 2 million visitors by the close of this year. This was a huge recovery since the 1998 bombing which literally brought Kenyan tourism to its knees.
To achieve this the Kenya tourist board has been aggressively marketing Kenya as a high value destination for high spending tourists and this has been paying dividends. In 2010 United Kingdom led in terms of arrivals with 174,051 followed by United States with 107,842 while Italy and Germany took third and fourth positions at 87,694 and 63,011. The status quo has largely been maintained in percentages. But the advisories hit Tourism where it hurts most- the numbers. The new US warning is an update on its advisory released on April 4th this year, citing ‘potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya, particularly after the death of Osama Bin Laden.”
The fact is Kenya has been attacked by terrorists mainly because of its perceived close relationship with the US and its allies. The 1998 bombing in Nairobi was targeted at the US embassy. Yet over 200 Kenyans died and at least 4000 were injured. 14 years later Many Kenyans remain traumatized by the worst terror attack on Kenyan soil. In 2002 at least 15 people died when a truck crashed through the gates of Paradise Hotel in Kikambala. The targets were Israelis, another close ally of the US.
Since then the US has issued sporadic travel warnings against Kenya time and again, as Kenya increasingly appeared a pawn for terrorists targeting US interests, ever since the superpower they declared war on terror. And while the US takes every opportunity to shout from the rooftops about its strong relations with this country and declare its support, in Kenya’s bid to protect itself, there is little evidence of material support towards the same. The spirit of partnership was largely lacking when Kenya stepped up the chase for Fazul Abdalla, the key suspect in the 1998 bombings. Fazul later died in hail of bullets from Somalia’s National Security Agency in June last year.
The US has also been largely AWOL as Kenya waged a one-man battle against AL-Shabaab, who have publicly declared their loyalty to international terrorist outfit Al Qaeda. When KDF launched Operation Linda Nchi and entered Somalia to pursue Al Shabaab, the international community was largely mute. Now our army is one city away from conquering Al Shabaab with the help of AMISOM.
On that evidence the alleged US support to Kenya in the fight against terror is largely lip service. Yet this war, in the first place, is their war. The advisories do nothing more than spread unnecessary anxiety, not just to their targeted audience but also Kenyans, besides hurting the economy. Ironically, whenever the US itself has come under attack on its own soil, the government has always responded by vowing not to be cowed by cowards.