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THE PRICE OF PIRACY

That Mombasa Town Clerk Tubman Otieno has been taken to court by The National Environmental Management Authority for failing to comply with environmental laws and operating several illegal waste disposal sites is perhaps not unusual. Nairobi Town Clerk Philip Kisia has also been summonsed to court by the same authority over uncollected garbage in the city’s industrial estate (odd, however, that on this occasion Mr Kisia didn’t invite the television cameras along). What is of greater concern is that, as The Standard’s editorial put it on September 29, ‘the gateway to Kenya’s tourism industry is groaning under mountains of garbage’.

Kenya’s tourism industry is under assault and a stinking, rat infested Mombasa won’t help the matter. The main problem as far as tourism is concerned however, as most readers will know by now, is the knock-on effects of recent pirate attacks on tourists staying in the Lamu region.

The tragic killing by a gang of pirates of British tourist David Tebbutt at Kiwayu Safari Village on September 11th and the abduction of his wife Judith, hit the front pages of newspapers and television screens throughout the world. Would-be visitors to Lamu were nervous but in the main kept coming. Kiwayu is after all many kilometers north of Lamu.

AMOS KIMUNYA LEAPS INTO ACTION…

It took another 20 days for Transport Minister Amos Kimunya to announce that a coast guard unit would be set up to fight piracy. Note, not ‘had been’ set up, ‘would be’ set up. ‘Piracy is a global problem’, he said, it required a ‘multilateral approach’ but Kenya was determined to end the attacks.

“Proposals for a coast guard unit… are at an advanced stage”, said Minister Kimunya. Well he didn’t actually say these words they appeared in a speech read for him by Assistant Minister Simon Ogari to mark World Maritime Day, as reported on page 34 of The Daily Nation on September 30th.

The events of the next day were to bring into stark relief the pressing problem of piracy on Kenya’s coast set against the lethargy and indifference of politicians and security chiefs. Even Amos Kimunya would have had to sit up and take notice.

PIRACY COMES CLOSER TO HOME – AND THE TOURIST INDUSTRY

Marie Dedieu: Kidnapped from Manda Island

The kidnap of French woman Maria Dedieu on October 1st has had an altogether different effect to the murder of David Tebbutt and the kidnapping of his wife Judith. Ms Dedieu was taken by six gunmen from Ras Kitau on Manda Island just across the water from Shela Village in the heart of the Lamu resort.

Internal Security Minister George Saitoti responded to the abduction of Maria Dedieu by declaring that the attack was “totally unacceptable to the government” and a “violation of Kenya’s sovereign integrity”. He was right of course, “unacceptable” yes, a “violation”, indeed, and also catastrophically bad for Kenya’s economy.

Bed and breakfast, lunch on the veranda, an evening meal out at a local restaurant, sea, sand and getting kidnapped is not what people go on holiday to the Peponi Hotel for.

The Lamu tourism trade has collapsed overnight. Many hotel bookings have been

Lamu's Peponi Hotel

cancelled, whilst many more potential visitors will now give the Kenyan coast a miss.

Ras Kitau on Manda, close to Shela/Lamu

Let’s just consider the economics of this. It’s not just a few rich hoteliers getting their fingers burnt financially. Empty hotels mean no bookings for internal air companies; no sales of food, wine and water, which will financially hit local suppliers; it means empty dhows moored up on the quayside and empty curio shops; and hotel staff – chefs, waiters, waitresses, cleaners and handymen – out of work.

The Standard was right to refer to the ‘tourism industry’. It is an industry vital to the Kenyan economy and it is collapsing because politicians and our security services were caught napping.

PIRACY A GLOBAL PROBLEM BUT KENYA MUST TAKE ACTION

The Standard was also right in many of the views expressed in its main editorial yesterday under the headline ‘Kidnap is no longer about Al Shabaab, but us’.

‘Much of what we have seen is reactionary, with senior security and Government officials performing mainly for foreign media and their cameras’, The Standard declared. More damningly the editorial went on, ‘It can safely be said that were it not for the kidnapping of two foreign tourists from Europe… the Government would still be in slumber’.

The Standard then pointed out that Al-Shabaab militia kidnapped two Kenyan soldiers in July but the Government appeared to do little or nothing (although it should be noted, Kenya’s press didn’t exactly leap into action either) and that the fate of the two is still unknown.

Writing on the wider subject of ‘insecurity’ in The Daily Nation in January of this year, lawyer and politician Paul Muite stated: ‘One of the defining characteristics of a functioning democratic State is the capacity of that State to secure her international boundaries and to guarantee her citizens (and visitors) security within the framework of functioning institutions, police, investigative and prosecutorial agencies and, of course, the Judiciary’. Mr Muite was right.

Urgent action has to be taken. The Government should remember that its first duty is the protection of its citizens. It might also consider that protecting foreign tourists makes eminent financial sense.

President Kenyatta declared winner.

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