3 September 2012

Kenya: Riots Hurting Tourism

The Kenyan tourism sector is at crossroads yet again following insecurity incidents at the Kenyan coast long regarded as the country's bastion of tourism activities.

Three days of continuous fighting and bloody street battles between the police and Muslim youths protesting the cold-blooded killing of Muslim cleric Aboud Rogo have seen a number of tourism source markets offer travel advisories to their nationals.

Among the embassies that have warned their nationals against travelling to the Coast are Australia, Britain and France. It is expected that more embassies will follow if the situation goes unabated.

Already the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers & Caterers (KAHC) has warned of tough times for the tourism sector just reeling under the effect of terrorism activities spearheaded by the ragtag Alshabaab militia from Somalia. It is feared that the arrivals will dwindle further, a situation that will seriously impact on the Kenyan economy which is heavily dependent on the billion dollar sector.

President Mwai Kibaki toured the region last week to plead for restraint even as the death toll from the violence rose to five, aided by grenade wielding youths mostly from Mombasa's informal settlements.

Aboud Rogo, a controversial Muslim cleric with a number of pending terrorism court cases and a suspect for the 1998 Kikambala resort bombing was shot dead at close range sparking violent protest from Muslims in the Coastal town.

The violence has however shifted from Rogo's killing with a number of churches torched in what now appears as a war against Christians in the region.

Rogo has also been variously accused by the United States and the UN of helping al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants in Somalia at installations in Kenya and neighboring states.

The protests come in the wake of demands by a renegade political group the Mombasa Republican Council that is calling for the secession of the Coast region from the rest of Kenya citing continued marginalization of the region by successive governments.

According to the hoteliers association chairman Mike Macharia, the Kenyan government must move with speed to assure Kenyans and the international community that holiday destination is safe for visit and that all situations are under control.

"We are facing a very difficult situation as a country. Events in the recent months have really worked against tourism and we appeal to the government to move in and assure both investors and tourist that everything is under control," said Macharia.

Hundreds of angry youths threw stones, barricaded roads with burning tires, burnt churches and looted shops in Majengo and Kisauni.

A section of the political class has however called on the countries issuing travel bans to clarify that that riots are just in a small section of Coast Province and not affecting the whole country.

Some booking cancellations have already been registered in a number of key resorts following the violence and the unease in the region.

Kenya registered a 0.5 per cent dip in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2012 attributable to a round of terrorist kidnappings that hit various tourist installations at the coast.

It remains to be seen what measures that central government led by retirement bound President Mwai Kibaki and 2013 Presidential frontrunner and incumbent Prime Minister Raila Odinga will put in place to ensure tranquility at the Coast and other Kenyan regions in a charged election year.

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