Let’s safeguard tourism from election-related violence threat

Monday February 27 2017

Tourists enjoy the view at the Serena Beach Hotel in Mombasa on June 28, 2015. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT

Tourists enjoy the view at the Serena Beach Hotel in Mombasa on June 28, 2015. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By FATUMA HIRSI MOHAMED
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In this election year, the Nation editorial of February 15 had lessons for our election managers, security forces and the public at large regarding our tourism industry.

As you rightly pointed out, some of the hotels have earned accolades that are taken seriously by tourists from our key source markets.

But you cautioned that industry players are watching the developments leading up to the elections with some trepidation, aware of how fragile confidence is in light of perceived instability. This is important and it bears repeating.

Tourism is one of the jewels in Kenya’s economic crown, contributing to the economy, as it is one of the top three income generating sectors that contribute immensely to the GDP.

It has been so since before independence owing to the unique attractions our country offers visitors. But it is also the most vulnerable to disruption. Just one or two travel advisories can wipe out millions of dollars in revenue for industry players and this just because of a perception that visitors are not safe.

This is the reality that our election managers, our security forces, our media and all of us in our various capacities should endeavour to forestall.

We cannot afford to play dice with our economic lifeline. And we must not let a basic, regular and all too often repeated civic exercise like a general election deprive us of our livelihoods, if not our lives. Elections come and go. They should afford us an opportunity for renewal and not plunge us into a fear that we spread to visitors from afar.

TAKEN BAD BEATINGS

Kenya’s tourism has in the past taken bad beatings arising from our botched elections. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost as a result of travel advisories and the attendant travel booking cancellations. Whole families have been left destitute, with up to 30,000 jobs lost at the coast.

This is a blot on our conscience as a nation and we should aim to banish the culture of election-related fear and violence forever, especially now that tourism has picked up in the recent past and jobs are being created once again.

This upward trajectory should be maintained by all of us. We have enough problems to deal with without inflicting any more on ourselves. As a result of climate change, drought is raging, wiping out livestock by the thousands.

The threat of starvation is real. Conflicts among our peoples as a result of these dire circumstances are taking place. Our energies should be directed at real problems rather than contrived ones in the field of political competition.

Developments in the international political and economic order inform us that we should be utterly focused on growing our national cake by ourselves. The message of economic nationalism coming from nations that we depended on, in years gone by, for our budget support, should serve as a wake-up call to us that times have changed irrevocably.

CULTIVATE SOCIAL COHESSION

This is not necessarily a bad thing. We should have been cultivating social cohesion as a key driver for economic prosperity. More than half-a-century after independence, we should not be fearing one another. What is more, we have a constitution that is very people-empowering.

Sovereignty reaches down to our grassroots and, people, if they are conscious of their civic responsibilities, will vote in the right leaders from the members of the county assemblies all the way up to the presidency. This is what empowerment is all about.

It will be a tragedy if we turn such a blessing into a curse. My own view is that nothing good should ever be taken for granted. Not health, not peace, not freedom and certainly not security. We cannot assume that because we are enjoying any or all of these, it will always be so.

We must continuously remind ourselves of the dangers that lurk in the darker corners of our hearts and seek to be better than we are. We cannot afford to commit economic — and political suicide — in the name of electing leaders. That is an unforgivable folly that should be avoided at all costs.

Ms Hirsi Mohamed is the principal secretary, Ministry of Tourism. [email protected]