Magazine article Geographical

Kenya Gets Back to Business: The International Reaction to the Suicide Bombing of an Israeli-Run Hotel on the Kenyan Coast in 2002 Devastated the Country's Tourism Industry. Nearly Three Years on, Ben Winston Reveals How Kenya's People Have Been Affected and Why Rebuilding the Industry Is Vitally Important for Their Future

Magazine article Geographical

Kenya Gets Back to Business: The International Reaction to the Suicide Bombing of an Israeli-Run Hotel on the Kenyan Coast in 2002 Devastated the Country's Tourism Industry. Nearly Three Years on, Ben Winston Reveals How Kenya's People Have Been Affected and Why Rebuilding the Industry Is Vitally Important for Their Future

Article excerpt

Whatever Kafedha Masha Mramba knew about the Israel-Palestine problem, she would never have suspected it would end her life. As a rural Kenyan and head of a small family in Kikambala, a remote, dusty village of limited prospects beside the Indian Ocean, she was one of more than 200 local people employed at the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel. The leader of a group of Chonyi women dancers, she would greet new arrivals as they came down to reception. Which explains why, when a jeep sped through the gates and down towards the hotel on the morning of 28 November 2002, she and her troupe got up and danced towards the driver in a spectacular Kenyan welcome. It was the last thing she ever did.

The suicide bomb that ripped through the Paradise that morning killed 12 Kenyans and three Israelis. But by the time the smoke had cleared, it wasn't just the resort and the victims' families' lives that lay shattered, so too did confidence in Kenya's entire tourism industry. Images of the devastation spread around the globe as news of a simultaneous but unsuccessful attack on an Israeli aircraft at Mombasa airport emerged. And it wasn't long before a series of travel advisories warning against travel to the East African country were published. Then, the following May, the UK Department of Transport banned all British carriers from flying to Kenya, cancelling many direct flights from Kenya's primary source of tourists.

Tourism is critically important to Kenya, accounting for between ten and 12 per cent of the economy. In a good year, it overtakes coffee, tea and agriculture as the country's biggest foreign-exchange earner. That's why, when I spoke to the then tourism minister Raphael Tuju earlier this year, he was unequivocal in his assessment of the travel advisories. "They were an economic disaster," he said.

"We estimate that for every tourist who comes into the country," he continued, "seven people find employment, from the farmers who supply the food to the contractors involved in the construction and maintenance. This 'multiplier effect' means that if we have half a million tourists, we're talking about 3.5 million people directly or indirectly employed. That's a significant number."

While no country can easily weather the sudden disappearance of ten percent of its economy and jobs, in Kenya--which is ranked 148th out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index--the sudden lack of cash meant basic development goals floundered. Crime and disease levels increased and children were pulled from school.

But Kenya needs development. With half of the country's population under the age of 16, it needs more free education than the primary level currently available. It needs more hospitals, drugs and outreach programmes to help combat an HIV/ AIDS epidemic that infects almost seven per cent of adults and has brought life expectancy down from almost 51 in 1975 to less than 45 today. It needs employment to allow the 40 per cent of the population without work to earn a living and it needs basics such as midwives and mosquito nets to help combat infant mortality and malaria. To cap it off, it needs a steady stream of revenue to help service its US$4.5 billion foreign debt. In short, Kenya needs the money generated by tourism.

But if the development statistics paint a somewhat despairing picture, most visitors never witness anything more harrowing than a slew of travel cliches. Reserves such as the Maasai Mara have become famous for their combination of big game and tribal culture, and Mount Kenya--Africa's second highest mountain--is well known for its adventure and trekking opportunities. The list of ecotourism outfits and resorts around the country beggars belief, and accommodation options range from backpacker flop houses to some of world's most imaginative five-star camps. And that's not to mention the Indian Ocean coast, a stunning region of white-sand beaches, coral reefs and palms that Ernest Hemmingway once described as unmatched in the world. …

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