Kenya tourism minister barred from foreign travel and failed to reach ITB


A ban affected on a number of Kenyan ministers also saw tourism minister Balala fall victim to a presidential directive, which was issued early this week. The minister was due to leave for the world’s most important tourism trade fair, ITB, annually held in March each year in Berlin, Germany, and it is understood that the delegation was subsequently led by the Kenya Tourist Board. The minister was to meet some of his counterparts and continue spearheading Kenya’s marketing offensive to bring tourist numbers back to the pre-global economic crisis levels.

The “travel ban,” as local media in Kenya put it, was a result of a presidential directive to facilitate discussions at the cabinet level over a new draft constitution and was communicated to the minister and others colleagues of his holding separate portfolios in writing just ahead of his departure to Germany.

Tourism sources in Nairobi in regular contact with this correspondent, however, had different opinions. Said one, “Yes, we need the new draft constitution to be finished, but to keep our minister here when he was expected and announced in Berlin to promote the country is ridiculous,” while another added to these sentiments by saying: “Does our president even understand what damage such ‘shoot from the hip’ actions bring about? Balala had appointments, a full schedule for the ITB, and we as Kenyans are made [to] look stupid with these last minute sorts of decisions to keep him at home. Has the president’s office never heard of mobile phones, email, [or] SKYPE, which allows someone to communicate from abroad?” Yet another comment sent in pondered: “And one wonders why we are still ‘developing’ after nearly 50 years of independence? Surely there must be better ways; so many ministers are missing meetings in which Kenya’s presence was very important. Of course. the constitution draft should be finished, but that has taken so many years that a few more days would not have made a difference. Maybe there was another agenda also at work; here in Kenyan politics, one can never rule this out.”

A completely different opinion, however, was voiced by one other regular source who claimed: “The minister’s presence in Berlin is not really needed. What we require is a strong private sector delegation, which is well prepared and our tourist board to be sharp in their efforts. Remember, tourism is private-sector driven, and our government does little enough to support us. Let government give us the percentage back from tourism revenues to promote Kenya better, but they ever only talk about it. We want 5 percent for promotion of the money we earn them; let them deliver this first, then we can see who heads delegations next time.”

Be that as it may, the absence of the tourism minister in Berlin was a blow of sorts to Kenya’s public and private sector’s efforts to promote side by side with a well-recognized figurehead leading the delegation but may also have spurred added individual efforts to make up for the minister’s absence.