KENYAN YOUTH VITAL IN WAR ON TERROR
THE U.S. Department of State has just issued the nth travel advisory on Kenya warning Americans of the risks they face while visiting the country due general insecurity and possibility of terrorist attacks. Once again, the Kenya government said the travel advisories are uncalled for as they only hurt the country’s economy by discouraging tourists and potential investors.
For Kenya, it is worth noting, though not consoling, that in the month of May 2015, the Department of State has so far issued 11 travel advisories, 8 of which covered countries in Africa including Burundi, CAR, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Mali. The other countries in the list are Afghanistan, Mexico, Nepal and Philippines.
Some years ago, tourism was the leading foreign earner for Kenya. With white sands at the coast, national park safaris and 5-star hotels, the country was more than blessed. That was until the crisis in Somalia spilt into Kenya which in hot pursuit sent the defense forces across the border and captured the strategic port of Kismayu from the Al-Shabaab militants.
By then, major hotels at the Kenyan coast had sent their workers home due to low bed occupancy. The industry that had taken years to build and millions of dollars worth of investment was on its knees. The knock down effect touched almost every business and family.
Consider the current sorry state at the Kenyan coast with the March 2015 U.S. travel to overseas markets which was up six percent at almost 7 million compared to last year. The biggest number of almost 2 million Americans travelled to Europe. Almost 2 million travelled to the islands. Only 73,000 travelled to Africa.
In March 2015, international visitors injected nearly $ 18.6 billion on tourism related activities in the U.S. making travel and tourism the largest services export for the country. In comparison, Kenya earned about $ 1 billion from tourism for the whole of 2014. In a reversal of previous years, tea exports and remittances from diaspora now earn the Kenya more than tourism.
Kenya soldiers on in spite of all the obstacles facing the country. The country did not just wake up and discover the danger posed by the threat of terrorism. The Norfolk hotel in Nairobi was bombed on the New Year’s Eve 1980. In 1998 the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was bombed, killing almost 200 people. Four years later the Israel-owned Paradise hotel was bombed. In 2013 the Somalia-based Al Shabaab attacked Westgate Shopping Mall killing 80 people.
The situation is not beyond repair as Kenya could still correct the security failures that give terrorists room to cause havoc, fear and despondency. To reverse the situation, the country needs massive investments in poverty reduction projects focusing on young people.
Take electric power and super dams to collect rain water for example. This will not only improve lives by lighting and cleaning homes but also lead to more small and medium enterprises. Reliable power and water supply would inspire the youth to venture in better and more creative activities in almost every sector.
The heroic actions of young people witnessed at Westgate Shopping Mall can only be replicated if more young people have a stake in peace through ownership or direct benefit through equity in distribution of the national cake.
Kenya will lose or win the war on terror to the degree the country will integrate the youth in the national economy. The youth will make a big difference if their future looks bright. They will not allow any person or group of persons to mess with that future. In protecting their future, the youth will protect their country. They deserve all the support.
By Leonard Njoroge, Diaspora Messenger Contributor, Email: [email protected]