News / Economy

Bombings Threaten Kenya Growth Goals

FILE - Bomb experts carry out investigations at the scene of an explosion along Biashara street in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, May 22, 2014.
FILE - Bomb experts carry out investigations at the scene of an explosion along Biashara street in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, May 22, 2014.
Recent bombings in Kenya have dented President Uhuru Kenyatta's plans to boost tourism and undermined his pledge to restore security after last year's Westgate shopping mall attack.

Travel warnings issued by the United States, Britain, France and Australia last month have sent their citizens packing, emptying Kenya's palm-fringed beaches and forcing hotels to lay off staff.

On taking office last year Kenyatta vowed to lift tourist numbers to five million annually within five years, three times' last year's level, and get economic growth into double figures in his bid to raise incomes and lift millions out of poverty.

Those targets always looked optimistic to economists and seem further out of reach following a spike in attacks on Kenya, blamed on militants linked to Somalia, this year.

The travel alerts are also a fresh point of friction between the West and Kenyatta, whose pending trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has cast a shadow over relations with a nation seen as an ally in the battle against militant Islam.

"The West risks opening a new divide with Kenyatta as they did with the ICC, but the tension so far appears more benign," said Macharia Munene, a university lecturer in Nairobi.

Western governments said they could only have limited contacts with a leader facing charges of inciting ethnic killings after violence during elections in 2007 left about 1,200 dead. Kenyatta denies the charges and his case has been delayed due to a lack of witnesses.

The travel advisories have put the coastal city of Mombasa, where suspected Islamist bombers killed three people this month, off-limits to many tourists. Western governments have also urged vigilance elsewhere. As tourists fled, jobs have also gone.

"I was sent home... because there weren't enough visitors at the hotel," said 27-year-old Tumaini Sidi, a maid at the luxury Sai Rock Beach & Spa Hotel in Mombasa.

Beach resorts and safari lodges now face the challenge of securing bookings for the crucial July-September period, as Somalia's al Shabaab Islamist group has threatened more strikes if Kenya doesn't pull troops out of Somalia. Kenya said it won't quit Somalia.

Chinese tourists

Tourism is Kenya's second-biggest source of foreign exchange after agriculture, earning $1.02 billion last year or about 12 percent of the nation's gross domestic product.

But those figures only tell half the story. The industry is a major employer, providing about 500,000 jobs directly and generating work for a host of support industries, from food suppliers right down to vendors selling trinkets on the street.

Some 900 tourists cut short their holidays after Britain issued its warning on Mombasa on May 14, weighing on an industry that saw tourist numbers slide to 1.5 million last year after an all-time peak of 1.8 million in 2011.

If the decline deepens severely this year, some economists say it could shave 1 percentage point or more off economic growth, which the IMF forecasts at 5.5-6 percent.

"Kenyatta's double-digit target for economic growth was already overly optimistic, but the continued decline in the tourism sector will further complicate efforts to boost growth,'' said Sarah Collier at UK-based risk consultancy Maplecroft.
Worries of violence during last year's election had deterred many from visiting the country's white sandy beaches and game parks. A peaceful vote raised hopes for an upturn, only to be dashed when Al Shabaab gunmen stormed Nairobi's upmarket Westgate mall in September 2013, gunning down shoppers. At least 67 people died.

Kenyatta, whose family business empire includes a chain of hotels, is now trying to shore up the industry by encouraging domestic tourism: waiving taxes on air tickets and offering tax breaks to firms who pay staff holidays.
As Europeans, who account for nearly half of Kenya's tourists, become wary, the government is eying more visitors from China, but that is a long-term plan. There were only 38,000 Chinese visitors in the 2012/2013 fiscal year.

Central Bank Governor Njuguna Ndung'u played down prospects for a downturn in tourism that would hurt growth. ``It could only be a temporary hiccup,'' he told Reuters, citing a forecast of 5.6 percent for growth in fiscal 2014/15 starting July 1.    But if security worsens it could have a broader effect.

"The impact of the security situation on domestic confidence is far more important as a driver of growth,'' said Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered bank said. "This is where Kenya faces its greatest vulnerability."

Playing politics

Kenya insists it is on top of security and is tracking militants. "We are guarding... all known crowded areas within the city," said Nelson Marwa, Mombasa county government commissioner. "You will not see us but we are there."
Deputy President William Ruto said the government was being blamed for attacks that got through without being credited for the many more it has stopped.
Some Western diplomats, though, voiced frustration that Kenya had not bolstered security more robustly after Westgate. No top officials lost jobs over the attack, even when troops were found to have looted the mall during the four-day siege.
Western diplomats and security experts also say security forces are being hampered by poor coordination between agencies. And Kenyan strong-arm tactics can be counter-productive, despite counter terrorism and other training from Britain, the United States and Israel amongst others.

One diplomat pointed to the rounding up of hundreds of people from a Somali-dominated area of Nairobi after recent bombings.

"All it does is turn them more against you," he said, adding Kenya had to do more to win the battle against militant ideas and address the issues driving recruitment.
Al-Shabab has not claimed responsibility for the May attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa, which has prompted some to question whether the government is right to blame it. Officials insist it is al Shabaab or their sympathizers. Al Shabaab could not be reached for comment.

This highlights the challenge facing Kenya. Kenyan experts say al Shabaab may be increasingly turning to "hired hands'' from Kenya's own radicalized youth, many of them drawn from the Muslim community, which makes up 15 percent of the population.
"It is rented terrorists," said Mutahi Ngunyi of Nairobi-based consultancy firm Consulting House.

Privately, some Kenyan officials also say Washington and European governments are playing politics, seeking to punish Nairobi for its closer ties with Beijing and for awarding new contracts, such as a new railway, to China rather than the West.
Western states, who are big aid donors, say they are only acting because of security worries.

"We are not allowed to politicize security," said John Bradshaw, the British High Commission spokesman in Nairobi.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies


Rates may not be current.