KENYA IS SAFE SAYS MINISTER PROVE IT SAYS TOURISM FRATERNITY
The fallout of the second kidnapping by suspected Somali militants of a tourist from a Kenyan beach resort has already started and is likely to degenerate into a furious row between stakeholders and government, the latter now accused of not having done enough to ensure security of tourists and wananchi in Lamu. Following the Kiwayu incident some three weeks ago, security was supposed to have been considerably stepped up along this stretch of coast line. Embassies and High Commissions upped the language of their travel advisories asking visitors to Kenya to absolutely avoid the coastal strip between the Somali border and Kiwayu and the Kenyan tourism fraternity was swift to point out that other places like Lamu itself were safe and could be visited without problems.
The abduction therefore of a paralyzed French tourist on Saturday night came as a rude shock to the tourism industry, as it took place literally under the noses of this very security, from a resort on Manda Island which is part of the Lamu archipelago and not far from a Kenya naval base it was learned during investigations into the circumstances of this latest incident.
To the credit of the Kenyan security services, once the alert had been raised by staff of the resort, following the swift departure by speed boats of the abductors, they swung into action immediately and launched a hot pursuit on the water and from the air, where surveillance aircraft were redirected and on daylight a helicopter pursuit launched.
While the abductors were eventually cornered before they could escape into Somali waters, this only led to a standoff with the reported exchange of gun fire, but eventually the suspected militants managed to slip away and get across into Somalia, putting the Kenyans in the unenviable position to either abandon the pursuit or else be in open violation of another countrys borders regardless of the fact that Somalia at present is a totally failed state. There are also unconfirmed reports that some of the Kenyan personnel involved in the manhunt may be lost at sea after their craft reportedly capsized. Other reports from the Kenyan coast speak of the apparent wounding of some of the abductors during the exchange of fire but sadly no information is available as to the health and well being of the French hostage.
Regular contributors to this columns news broadcasts were finding it hard to make sense of things but one source in particular from Nairobi really let fly: When Saitoti [Kenya?s Minister for Internal Security] talks of about the abduction being unacceptable to government, what is unacceptable is that this was happening a stone throw away from a navy base where there is supposed to be security. What is unacceptable is that government wants to build a port in the same place and they cannot keep it safe even now. What is unacceptable Bwana [Kiswahili word for
?mister?] Minister is that our security sleeps and lets this happen. Equally were comments made by Kenyas Tourism Minister Najib Balala critizised after he attempted to portray Kenyas coast as safe. Here again the same source said: How can Balala say the coast is safe. How can he comment and say we will beef up security? That was supposed to have happened after Kiwayu! Now the Somalis are coming as far as Lamu, what is next, Malindi? All the embassies in Nairobi have declared the entire coast from the border to Lamu and beyond a no go area now. Because our security slept and our ministers played peacock parading around the tourism business in Lamu is going to be spoilt. Who would now want to go there with such risks. There are many resorts, some even between Lamu and Malindi, who would want to go there when our government just talks and talks but fails to seal off those sea and land borders. Elsewhere the Somali militants stage hit and run attacks on refugee camps, can our army not defend our borders, can our navy not keep those boats away from our waters and from our beach resorts? Let us not mislead our visitors and ourselves about safety and security. Somalia is now a big problem and we have to get involved to sort this out. These guys need a strong government again, not a partitioned territory with Somaliland and others wanting to break away and Al Qaida using it for hideouts and for training to threaten us from there. So our ministers must not express themselves in such terms when they have failed to protect Kenyans and our visitors. Let Balala not pretend that all is well and it is business as usual and let him prove to us, to the world, that Kenya is really as safe as he claims.
Overseas tour operators too have started to make contingencies after initially standing by Kenya following the first murder and abduction three weeks ago, when it was generally felt that it could have been a one off incident and that Kenya would step up security measurably. This second incident however has dented that view and shrunk the level of public support. In the short time available it could only be ascertained that holiday bookings for the Kenya coast were being sheparded away from Lamu and other more remote beach locations to the more fortified resort areas of Mombasas north and south coast. This left the question hanging in the air to what extent Malindi might be affected as fear was spreading of possible additional abductions or outright attacks on tourist resorts by Somali militants to revenge on Kenya which is a major supply stepping stone for the African Union force in Mogadishu and for the UN relief organizations still active inside Somalia. Kenya has in the past steadfastly refused to be drawn in to the conflict and avoided contributing troops to the AU mission but may now have to review their policy in view of these blatant cross border attacks.
Overall, not a good weekend for Kenyas tourism industry after a Black September month which has seen a series of accidents and disasters taking place across the country.
Our sympathy is expressed to the family and friends of the abducted French tourist, who is understood to be paralyzed and in constant need of medical attention and for whom this abduction needs to end very soon unless the outcome will be tragic. Watch this space.