ICC RULING HAS REGION AT EDGE
At 13.30 hrs local East African time today will all who matter in this region be tuning into the news broadcasts, as the ruling by the International Criminal Court is expected today, if charges against 6 suspects of being involved in the Kenya post election violence of 2008 are to stand or to be dismissed. With several prosecution witnesses having dropped out already, no longer willing to testify, while others have found themselves buried in controversy of changed stories, there is no telling how the pre-trail chamber judges will rule.
Security across Kenya has been stepped up and the outcome, either way, is expected to bring the supporters of the main politicians in the case out onto the streets, in demonstrations of either joy or else in anger.
Kenya is facing however more difficulties this year, and key tourism stakeholders notably shtumm on the ICC case for that matter have quietly expressed their concern over the long overdue decision on an election date. A regular source, albeit somewhat reluctantly, had this to say: The ICC decision is a big one. It influences the election campaign because if indicted, some may find it difficult to run for President with that cloud having over them. Kenyans are also no fools and know that the two main protagonists have not been charged, which many see as biased and even an attempt to avoid renewed fighting between the main political groups, if their leaders had joined those six in The Hague. But our main problem is the election date. Kenya always had elections between Christmas and New Year, the busiest time for tourism. With the disaster last time, when violence broke out over the results, tourists are likely to stay away this time from our country to avoid being caught up again and the media will of course warm up those stories. Let me again say, that not one tourist came to harm during those clashes, not one, but still we suffered great setbacks in arrivals that year. We need to know NOW when elections will be held to prepare, to have overseas tour operators plan ahead. Personally I dont think we will have a repeat of the violence last time but if the result is tight, who knows. So overseas tour operators will be very careful. Our constitution actually said elections must be held in August this year but that was challenged in court and it seems the ruling left the setting of the date to government. August is also a high season month which coincides with the European main school holidays and of course the migration of the big herds into the Masai Mara. Either way, whichever date, it is not going to be conducive for our sector. Already the Somali crisis of last year saw the arrival curves losing momentum and add to that the economic issues in Europe and around the world with maybe another big global recession looming? 2012 is going to be a very tough year for us all and we can only hope that our internal politics and the elections and the ICC announcement today do not make it ever worse.
Notably have these concerns also spread into the wider region, where the dominance of Kenyas economy is seen as both positive in terms of opportunities but also as a millstone around the other necks, when things go sour in Kenya and transit of exports, imports and the hub function of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for much of the regions air traffic are disrupted. Uganda is in its 50th anniversary year of Independence from Britain, and while no major campaign has yet unfolded, inspite of the country also having been named the Lonely Planets top destination for 2012 ( Lonely Planet’s Top Country to Visit) there is apprehension here too that events in Kenya could spoil the party for Uganda as well as other regional countries depending on tourism receipts.
Watch this space for updates when the ICC verdict has been announced later today and the likely implication this will have for Kenya and the wider region.