Tourism and terrorism are now inextricably entwined
So, Kenyan tourism takes another body blow. An industry that has taken a frightening number of knocks over the past 10 years is put to the sword again. Already, we are told, the damage done by travel warnings, flight re-routings and conference cancellations runs to billions of shillings.
Reeling from the bang, the tourist industry is searching for scapegoats. Who is to blame? Is it the much-maligned Minister for Internal Security, whose terror warning seemed to spark off all the cancellations? Is it the arrogant British, who over-reacted to a threat that Kenya shares with many other countries? Or is it the Americans, whose adventures in the Middle East may lie at the root of these terrorist threats?
If we pick only from this list of likely suspects, we will be doing ourselves a great disservice. If the tourism industry is to get to the heights it deserves, we must be brutally honest with ourselves. Let us accept several facts.
Firstly, Mr. Murungaru is not a terrorist. He merely gave the problem vocal expression. Had he kept quiet, a different section of Kenyans would be laying into him about hiding imminent danger from Kenyans. It is also unlikely in the extreme that Kenyan intelligence was the source of the information that led to the warning. The UK and USA have very sophisticated monitoring of terrorist groups going on; it is far more probable that Mr. Murungaru was the recipient of the information, not the originator. In which case we really have nothing to blame him for: the flight cancellations and travel warnings would have happened anyway.
What of the British and Americans? There can be little doubt that their recent escapades in Iraq have made the world a less safe place. The recent chain of terror attacks in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Istanbul bear witness to this. And there is more to come. But again, their travel warnings do not arise out any particular hatred for Kenyans; it is simply standard operating procedure. We can berate them and smell conspiracies all we want: all that does is distract us from more fundamental problems back home.
The Americans recently announced that Kenyan citizens are involved in terrorism in Kenya. Should this really be a surprise to anyone, if truth be told? Does anyone out there really doubt that there are a few Kenyan Muslims who feel part of the struggle against America, the ‘Great Satan’, and who aided and abetted foreign terrorists in all the recent atrocities? The terrorist war is a global phenomenon. Al-Qaida recruits come in many hues and nationalities, as even September 11 showed. Why do we think Kenyans might not be amongst them?
Terrorism is born of a deeply embedded sense of injustice. Many Muslims around the world feel a deep-seated grievance against the USA; a small minority take this grievance to an extreme, and launch attacks against innocents. This behaviour, whilst misguided and depraved, is not surprising. Violence begets violence; always has, always will. If we believe that starting new wars and fighting fire with fire will resolve anything, we are truly fools.
Kenya has a terrorist problem. It is not a figment of the British foreign department’s imagination. Several hundred people have been killed in atrocities committed on our soil. Those Kenyans who have taken part in this carnage must be rooted out and charged with their crimes. We must stop imagining such well-executed events to be the work of mysterious Somalis and Egyptians. They could not have acted alone. Let’s face up to this and take the action needed.
Equally, we must recognise that the problem will not be resolved simply by making a few arrests. Dialogue and understanding is needed. The security forces cannot just go around invading the homes of innocents and holding people in cells simply because they are Muslim; this has happened in the past, and is a senseless over-reaction. Muslims are an integral part of this country, and cannot be discriminated against. The government must never drive a wedge between religions and communities, no matter what the provocation. What is needed is concerted and united action as a nation. The threat of terror is a problem for all Kenyans, no matter what our religion and ethnicity. We can only resolve it together.
This will mean that we are all willing to stand up and be counted in this war. We must never sympathise with terrorists, nor ever give their activities any moral justification. We must give them neither succour nor a hideaway. We must spend the time and effort needed to dissuade impressionable youths from the idea that violence can ever be a noble act. But equally, let us never equate Islam with terrorism, as the feeble-minded amongst us are wont to do. ‘Terrorism’ goes beyond the obvious: the acts of the Mungiki, for example, cannot be viewed separately from terrorism, nor can the ugly ethnic clashes we witnessed for a decade. Those who devised and executed these acts are also terrorists, pure and simple. If they are never brought to book, terrorism wins.
What of our government? It is playing a very dangerous game by aligning itself so clearly with American and British interests. Was I alone in feeling great disquiet when we recently had a hyperactive crew of American generals and colonels on our TV screens, condescendingly praising us as heroes (in their war, not ours) and offering all sorts of gadgetry to help us fight terror? No doubt the equipment is needed; but could it not have been donated and accepted very quietly? Americans do us no favours by putting their arms so publicly around us. America is as much to blame as any other country for the current state of the world. The fact that we have an international terrorist problem at all in this country is a direct consequence of the perception that Kenya is part of the unseemly group of American ‘poodles’. By continuing to feed this perception so visibly, I fear we are storing up more trouble for the future.
If we could only stop being blinded by the mighty, gleaming dollar, we might be able to see clearly. Kenya has no place taking sides in any conflict outside its borders. Involvement in other people’s wars has never benefited any small country, not in the long term. Non-aligned status is the only viable position for a country such as ours, and it is a noble position to have.
Tourism in Kenya now has its fortunes inextricably tied to the problem of terrorism, whether that be of the imported or home-grown variety. It will never recover as long as this problem is not addressed at a fundamental level. Bold action is needed, but so is a sense of understanding of the roots of the matter. First, let us be willing to stare the truth in the face.
Kenyan tourism also has a variety of other problems to deal with, many of its own making. But that is a matter for next week.