29 October 2012

Kenya: Mombasa Chaos Threatens Tourism

Nairobi — The Kenyan economy could be headed for a serious blow following a sustained spate of violence in the Coast region long considered as the bedrock of the country's tourism industry.

The twin challenge of demands by a secessionist group and tribal clashes between the Muslim Somali and traditional Mijikenda in the region threatens to dwarf the efforts the government had made in marketing Kenya as a safe tourist destination.

The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) a loose, uncoordinated collection of communities living at the Coast has slowly but surely been amassing numbers and is now demanding secession from the rest of the country on account of marginalization in terms of development by successive governments in Kenya.

On the other hand, the decision by the now defunct Boundaries Review Commission to lump the Somalis and Pokomo into Tana River County has led to incessant fighting over which community should produce the inaugural governor of the county. The fighting has already seen close to 200 people dead, houses torched and thousands displaced.

The two scenarios have seen the Nairobi-based government respond by deploying a battalion of the dreaded General Service Police Unit (GSU) to the region in a crackdown that has netted top officials of the MRC and suspected perpetrators or violence in the Tana Delta.

Top leaders of the MRC led by their chairman Omar Mwamnuadzi, secretary general among others are now languishing in custody after the government slapped them with unmanageable bonds ranging from $23,000 onwards.

Although relative peace has been realized in the area, reports of cancelations of bookings by tourists fearing for their safety are all over the industry with some foreign missions warning their natives against travelling to Mombasa and the region in general.

It has been a difficult year for Kenya's tourism industry with the first quarter having largely been marred by terrorist activities, kidnappings and war activities mostly fronted by the Somali ragtag militia, the Al-shabaab. The Kenya Defence Forces are deep into Somali trying to crush the group that was causing a serious affront to Kenya territorial sovereignty.

Last year, Kenya raked in over $1 billion from the tourism industry with the figure expected to shrink significantly this year on the back of the violence in the region, an erratic Kenyan shilling against the dollar, anxiety over the fourth coming elections among other factors.

The world will be watching keenly how the retirement-bound Mwai Kibaki and Presidential Hopeful and Prime Minister Raila Odinga handle these crises as the Coast region is key to Kenya's economic growth and development.

However, on the MRC bid, one thing is for sure, that the central government must advance a stick and carrot approach. In as much as it should crackdown on secessionist calls, the government must also listen to the pleas of marginalization by the locals.

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