24 June 2003

Kenya: US Terror Warnings and Bush Failure to Visit Anger Nairobi

Washington, DC — The travel warning issued for Kenya, the closing of the U.S. embassy and now the decision by President Bush not to visit Kenya during his trip to Africa next month, has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Kenyan officials. "You are not issuing similar warnings for Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia where there are more terrorist cells [than in Kenya]," says Minister of Public Works, Raila Odinga. "President Bush cannot come to Nairobi because Nairobi is unsafe but he can go to Jordan. Are we not applying a double standard?"

Kenya feels "let down and offended" that President Bush will go to Kampala but not Nairobi, said Odinga. "The reason being given is that Kenya is unsafe. If there are terrorist cells in Kenya, Mombasa or whatever, what is there to stop them from crossing the border? There is no "Berlin Wall" between Kenya and Uganda."

Odinga, and his fellow Minister for Provincial Administration and National Security, Dr. Chris Murungaru, spoke to allAfrica.com in Washington, D.C. Monday where they are pressing for the warning to be lifted and for more resources to support Kenya's efforts against terrorism. "Rather than issue a travel warning, [the U.S.] should assist us to protect not just ourselves, but yourselves as well, since you are the primary target," said Murungaru.

There is "no reason" to issue an advisory against travel to Kenya, argues Murungaru, calling the warning "unfair". Both the U.S. advisory issued in mid-May, and Britain's own warning, which prompted British Airways to suspend to suspend flights to Kenya, are "making a bad situation much, much worse."

Last week, France relaxed its warnings on visits to Kenya. French ambassador to Kenya, Pierre Jacquemot said his government no longer regarded Kenya as having an "imminent" security threat and would no longer discourage French citizens from making "non-essential" travel to the East African nation.

But U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Johnnie Carson, says things are worse in Kenya. In an interview with Nation TV's News Hour program last week, Carson said a crucial part of the problem is that almost everywhere in the world where there has been terrorist activity, except Kenya, there have been arrests and convictions. "In Kenya, there has not been a single arrest and conviction."

Just hours after the warning, Nairobi police announced "a major anti-terrorism swoop" that resulted in the detention of 38 people. And Sunday, Kenya banned flights to and from its neighbor, Somalia.

Monday, government officials announced the arrest of four men associated with alledged East African al Qaeda boss, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who is the main suspect in the Nov. 28 attack on the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa.

"We hope they will continue to move aggressively to arrest others in this country who are involved," the U.S. embassy in Nairobi said in a statement. "The U.S. stands ready to assist Kenya in any way it can to investigate and pursue those involved in global terrorism."

The four men were charged with murder Tuesday. One of their attorneys, Maubr Mao, claimed that foreign governments had put "pressure" to prosecute on the the Kenyan government. "The case is intertwined with political pressure of an international dimension," said Mao according to an AFP report.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi says the government has also prepared for presentation later this year, the Suppression of Terrorism Bill. At a press conference last week, Murungi denied that the Bill was a copy of the US Patriot Act, forced on Kenya by the United States.

The suspicion reflects growing anger in Kenya at what Minister Murungaru called suffering, "because we are friends of America."

Adding more fuel to Kenyan anger was this weekend's decision to shut down the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. The U.S. Defense Department raised the threat level in Kenya to "high" on Thursday, based on intelligence reports. The warning is the highest of four levels.

U.S. and British actions encourage terrorism's spread in Africa, says Murungaru. "By now saying that Kenya is unsafe [the U.S.] is giving encouragement to terrorism. There is nothing tomorrow to stop them from hitting Kampala. Another day they will go and hit Cape Town. What is happening amounts to surrender which encourages terrorism to continue."

"We don't believe that American tourists are less safe in Kenya than they are in Egypt, Jordan or Israel," says Murungaru. Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper, citing a "Global Terrorism Index" that will be published in July, said out of 100 countries considered to be at the greatest risk of terrorist attack, the U.S. is the fifth most likely country to be targeted by terrorists and Britain the ninth. Kenya ranks 15.

Once one of Africa's most popular tourist destinations, Kenya was getting about 100,000 British and 80,000 U.S. visitors a year; but those numbers have dropped dramatically after the November bombing in Mombasa.

U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania suffered devastating bomb blasts in August, 1998.

According to the State Department, more than 7,000 U.S. citizens, including a 111-person Peace Corps contingent, reside in Kenya.

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