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Kenya to Americans: Please Come Visit, We Love You

Paula Froelich
Editor in Chief
July 2, 2014

Tsavo East National Park. (Photo: Tiberio Frascari/Flickr)

It’s been a rough couple of months for Kenya. In May, the Somalia-based al-Shabab terrorist group bombed a Nairobi market, killing 10 people, and attacked a police vehicle with grenades in Mombasa.

Then in June, the extremists attacked a small Kenyan coastal town, Mpeketoni, while residents gathered to watch the World Cup, killing 48 people and prompting the British government to issue a travel warning against all “nonessential travel” to the country. Tourism is responsible for 63 percent of Kenya’s economy, and with the recent terrorist attacks and the travel ban of its largest supplier of tourists, the country is taking a hard hit. 

The Mombasa coast of Kenya. (Photo: Thom Chandler/Flickr)

The hit is so hard, Kenyans are calling England’s move “economic terrorism,” as their beach towns lay empty and safari Jeeps sit in driveways unused.

Kwale County minister of tourism Adam Sheikh told the Associated Press, “Now terrorists are fighting back, we need our friends to stand by us.Not to leave us and make the situation worse than it already is.”

And so, Kenya is looking to its other friend — America. 

On Monday afternoon, Phyllis Jepkosgei Kandie, the Kenyan secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, called a meeting in New York City for members of the media, or as she referred to them, “the fourth estate,” to plead for help.

A Kenyan woman makes baskets. (Photo: Climate Change/Flickr)

“Our president (Uhuru Kenyatta) came into office April 2013. [Soon after], we had the first challenge of Westgate,” Kandie said, referring to the Westgate Mall massacrein which al-Shabab militants gunned down 67 people in a popular shopping mall in Nairobi. 

“[Terrorism] is a problem not peculiar to Kenya. Almost every country in the world has been hit by terrorism. But unfortunately for us, our neighbor is Somalia, and our borders are porous. A few of them have infiltrated Kenya and are a problem, but we are making every effort to fight them,” Kandie said. “But it is not easy to fight when you cannot see where your enemies are coming from. But with help and information sharing, we will defeat this enemy.

"We want the world and America to know these incidences are isolated,” Kandie insisted. “I am not saying the problem is not there, but in spite of the problem, we just had a United Nations conference in Nairobi with over 1,000 delegates attending — Kenya is not an unsafe country.”

To that end, and to help fight the perception that Kenya could be the next to fall prey to Islamic extremist-born chaos, Kandie said the country is pouring money into its police force. 

“For this fiscal year, which started in June, the government put aside 12 percent of its entire budget for security,” she said, noting that 7,000 police recruits will be added to shore up the force, including 3,000 park rangers for the Kenyan Wildlife Service. “We are buying new police vehicles, fixed winged planes and helicopters, and are putting in cameras on every street corner and in ever major building in major towns,” Kandie said. “There will also be a new tourist police force to take care of tourists.”

On a darker note, Kandie added, “There will be community policing now. Terrorists live amongst you for a while before they attack, and so we are beefing up community reporting. Kenyans are overly friendly and trusting of everybody, but now we have to look out for ourselves. Not everyone who comes to live amongst us means well.” 

She was referring to the “homegrown” problem Kenya is facing, in which people who have lived in Kenya for years, some of them Kenyan-born, are now joining al-Shabab’s forces. When asked how this is affecting the Little Somalia neighborhood in Nairobi, which had housed many Somalian refugees, Kandie replied, “It is empty now.” Before adding, ”Please write the good stories. Please tell people to come. We can’t turn this around on our own.”

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