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Kenya Asks US to Help Offset Tourism Revenue Losses


Kenya's president has asked President Bush for massive financial assistance to offset what he says were huge losses in tourism revenue following recent terrorist alerts in the country.

Kenya's president, Mwai Kibaki, made the request for financial assistance in a letter he wrote to President Bush. The letter was delivered by National Security Minister Chris Murungaru, who has been in Washington for the past week to discuss terror-related issues with U.S. officials.

Security Minister Murungaru says his country is losing an estimated $14 million a week in tourism earnings and tax revenues. He also says the amount that President Kibaki requested was based on this figure.

Kenyan news media reports say President Kibaki has asked for as much as $400 million from the United States to compensate the east-African nation for huge losses in the tourism industry in the past several months.

The tourism industry began declining after a hotel near the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa was bombed last November. Terrorism alerts issued by the United States and Britain in mid-May prompted British Airways and other airlines to suspend flights to Kenya, accelerating the drop in Kenya's tourism revenues.

Tour operators agree the situation is dire. They report dramatic decreases in their businesses.

"We are down about 70 percent easily at the moment," said George Murray, the manager of Little Governor's Camp, an up-scale safari camp in Masai Mara national park that caters mainly to American and British tourists. "Two months ago, before the British Airways thing, the bookings were fantastic, we were looking to a bumper year, he continued. "But of course, since the cancellation of British Airways flights, we have had a lot of cancellations."

This is not the first time that Kenya has asked the United States for financial assistance to cope with the loss of tourism and other revenue due to the travel advisories and terrorism threats.

In late May, Kenya's trade and industry minister, Mukhisa Kituyi, met with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner in Washington. Mr. Kituyi says he asked the United States for monetary assistance to help boost Kenya's economy, but was unable to get any promises of additional help.

A State Department spokesman said recently the United States is committed to helping Kenya fund projects to create jobs, improve health care and combat terrorism in the country. But he says it is not in a position to compensate Kenya for specific losses.

Tourism contributes about 11 percent to Kenya's treasury annually, and that revenue is immediately affected whenever there is a threat of terrorism or an advisory against travel to Kenya.