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Calming the storm from most recent tourist abduction

Stung by criticism, Kenya government finally reacts to security crisis

Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Uganda  Oct 04, 2011

(eTN) - Stinging criticism over alleged complacency and even incompetence have produced the expected knee-jerk reaction by the Kenyan government, which had come to realize that a lot more than just soothing words and empty assurances were needed to calm down the storm from last weekend’s second abduction of a foreigner, which has caused a frenzy in local and overseas tourism circles and in the global media. The abduction took place within a stone's throw of a Kenyan naval base, also reportedly the location of training by US personnel of local army and navy units, leading to the ridiculing of the term "safe" by journalists.

Tourism stakeholders demanded and obtained audience with the Kenyan police commissioner, who later announced that 24 patrol boats and a helicopter would be deployed for more permanent surveillance, accompanied by an grudging admission that the 2 abductions were "partly due to a lack of a coordination mechanism."

Official sources over the weekend have made embarrassing statements over their perception of "safety" and whre promptly challenged by tourism stakeholders and the public at large for not getting their "act together" after the first abduction, in spite of full-mouthed statements and broad assurances.

A regular source who previously commented under condition of anonymity had this to say: "If the police commissioner now announces the deployment of two dozen boats and a helicopter, what had they deployed before? They seriously underestimated the threat by the Somali militants and probably hoped for the best and no repeat after the Kiwayu murder and abduction. Now finally they wake up because they realized sharpishly that our entire coast tourism industry is under threat now.

"With the embassy advisories who would now want to travel to Lamu or other smaller resorts along that stretch of coast, especially when no one has confidence in our security arrangements? Our police never lacks resources and speed when there is politics involved, but to guarantee the safety of our visitors and our wananchi, it is ever so slow.

"We are watching how long that helicopter they promised is flying and when the boats will run out of petrol. So let us not lament about embassies warning their citizens from coming to within 150 kilometers of the Somali border, let us fix our security first before mouthing off about such precautions."

This outspoken commentary was widely reflected by other conversations and email exchanges, blaming security failures as the main cause, considering the long-standing threats by Somali militants against Kenya.

That all said, however, it should also be recognized that by and large Kenya has been, and will very likely remain, a relatively safe destination for foreign tourists, be it on the safari circuit or at the coast.

It is understood that hoteliers and resort operators are presently reviewing their own security and surveillance measures, playing their part in ensuring the safety of their guests but that they fully expect the broader security measures beyond their own properties would be shouldered by government and kept up at a level similar to securing other crucial installations.

Stung by criticism, Kenya government finally reacts to security crisis
Kenyan police patrol the area north of Lamu / Photo by Flora Bagenal/Reuters

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