SAMBURU ATTACKS ON POLICE CONTINGENT RAISES SERIOUS SECURITY CONCERNS
As a fuller picture emerges from Kenya’s Samburu North District, where in recent days as many as 30 security personnel had been killed by alleged cattle rustlers, have tourism sources expressed their concern over the deteriorating security situation in several parts of the country. The number of dead given in local media in fact appears to be well over 40 for the past two weeks, with the latest casualties from an ambush laid when re-enforcement were rushed to the location to assist in tracking down the criminals.
Besides the situation at the Kenya coast, which already impacted on tourist arrivals in Mombasa, more due to poor reporting from international media organizations with their own agenda than over real threats to the safety of tourists, was the Tana region in the news of late with clan clashes costing reportedly hundreds of lives. The Tana Delta was only recently made Kenya’s latest RAMSAR Site but the good news were overshadowed by reports on the killings and the impact of large numbers of troops and GSU personnel being dispatched to the region.
Now it is in North Samburu, that yet another round of deadly clashes is emerging, this time between what clearly are well organized bandits, if not worse, and police units sent in to pursue them. While Baragoi is located between Maralal and Lake Turkana, a considerable distance away from major tourism routes, the prospect of having a well organized, and by the look of it well trained bandit force at large, some have in fact in comments sent overnight called it ‘more of insurgents than plain cattle rustlers or bandits’ has rattled Kenya’s tourism industry, already under siege over a downturn in fortunes this year and internally deeply divided as the minister responsible for tourism seems set on a confrontation course with large sections of the sector.
‘True, the location is not on a tourist circuit but it is along the land route from Maralal to Turkana. In any case, such clashes concern us because it will impact on tourism, on how people abroad perceive us. When such a large number of trained security personnel are killed, we immediately think of a lot more than just cattle rustlers. This almost seems like a trained militia or organized gang warfare. Today it is cattle, tomorrow it is elephant. By tomorrow our government will send helicopters and ground troops into that area, like they did in Tana, to pursue and kill those responsible. I don’t think Kenya has ever lost such a large number of security personnel in a single case like here. It challenges the authority of state and the response will be massive. We hope that when that happens other areas with a bit of issues from poaching and banditry can also be sorted out. Maralal has a tourist lodge, Lake Turkana at Loiyangalani has lodges and is the venue for our Turkana Festival. So yes, it is important that this is tackled. We are not sure if these fellows are foreigners but it seems they are very well armed like only organized troops normally are. Therefore it is suspected they could be a group infiltrated to cause trouble, we had trouble in Turkana with foreign invaders before and then there are of course suspicions it could be run away Al Shabab from Somalia. But for sure our government will react tomorrow very strongly and pursue them from the ground and in the air. For now we can assure tourists going to Samburu or Buffalo Springs or Shaba that they need not worry. Those parks are well secured by KWS and others. It is only that the area where this happened is in Samburu North District but besides the name the parks are very very far from there’ communicated a regular Nairobi based source overnight, clearly showing the concern this latest security scare in Kenya is having across the tourism industry. Another regular source added: ‘It is one more in a series of misfortunes for Kenya over the past year. A year ago the situation in Lamu was bad, then we had the invasion into Somalia and the resulting security issues spilling into Kenya, some troubles at the coast, in Tana and the worries over the conduct of the elections next year. All this is making selling Kenya more difficult and yet the country is quite safe for tourists. It is just so untimely and just another issue we need to answer a lot of questions about instead of just showcasing our country’.
True enough, tourists visiting the Kenya coast, according to available TripAdvisor ratings and comments seen about leading holiday resorts, are overwhelmingly positive as are similar reviews about the safari lodges and safari camps across the country, affirming that visitors do not just get value for money but thoroughly enjoy their vacation time in Kenya. And while such cases as today need reporting, they need to be reported fairly and without the often visible hidden agenda by sections of the international media, whose correspondents hang out at the bars in Nairobi hotels and report from the rumour mill and not on site, and when they do with an often alarming lack of comprehension of what Kenya, East Africa for that matter, is all about. Watch this space.