Friday, February 8, 2008

More Headlines – Fri. 02/08/2008

Latest news - Diplomatic Initiatives Multiply in Attempt to Resolve Kenya Crisis- Voice of America

Breaking news - No peace deal [YET] in Kenya, says Annan – Press Association

More breaking news - U.S. Intensifies Efforts to End Deadly Conflict in Kenya - NY Times

1 - Annan hopes for Kenya political deal in days - Reuters
2 - Kenya parties see progress but no final deal – Reuters
3 - Progress at Kenya's peace talks – BBC
4 - Kenyan parties 'agree coalition principles' - Telegraph
5 - Annan meets Kibaki and Raila - Nation
6 - UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Arrives in Nairobi – Voice of America
7 - Kenya policeman denies murdering 2 protesters – Reuters
8 - Displaced Kenyans Flee Town Due To Ethnic Fighting – eFluxMedia

9 - KENYA: IDPs leave city for "ancestral homes"
10 - Sun, sea and miles of empty beach: the paradise that faces disaster - Guardian

Latest news - Diplomatic Initiatives Multiply in Attempt to Resolve Kenya Crisis- Voice of America

By Derek Kilner Nairobi

08 February 2008

A delegation from the East African regional bloc IGAD has concluded a visit to Kenya to discuss the current political crisis. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, recent days have seen a flurry of diplomatic statements and visits addressing the political deadlock and violence that has gripped Kenya since a disputed December election.

[Photo] Kofi Annan, center, mediates talks between government officials, right, and opposition, at Nairobi hotel, 4 Feb 2008

The IGAD delegation, which included ministers from Ethiopia, Uganda and Somalia, met with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan who is leading a mediation effort between the government and opposition, and also met with members of the negotiation teams for the two sides.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga's camp objected to a planned meeting of IGAD foreign ministers, saying that President Mwai Kibaki is not the legitimate head of state.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin announced the delegation's support for Annan's team, describing the dangers of holding multiple mediation efforts.

"The IGAD region has been at the recipient end of such proliferation of initiatives complicating already complicated crisis whether it is the Ethiopia - Eritrea border dispute or the crisis Somalia or that of Sudan," said Mr. Mesfin. "So we have pledged to Kofi Annan and his team that the IGAD leaders are fully behind their initiative and their efforts."

Western nations, while also expressing support for Annan's mediation, have raised their involvement in the crisis in recent days. U.S. ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger told Kenyan television station KTN that the United States may deny visas to 10 Kenyan politicians and businessmen suspected of fomenting violence.

"We've sent letters to about 10 individuals, and these are people on both sides, who we believe are involved in those kinds of activities," explained Amb. Ranneberger. "And we have warned them that their visa status could be affected."
U.S. officials say the visa status of additional Kenyans is also under review.

Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya Ross Hynes told KTN that Canada may also impose travel restrictions
"The Canadian law precludes the admissibility into Canada of people who are found to have been responsible for subverting democratic processes and democracy," said Hynes.

British officials say they are considering similar measures.

[Photo] A two-year old Kenyan boy, plays inside a tent in a camp for internally displaced people set up in Nairobi's Mathare slum, 08 Feb 2008

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to urge President George Bush to limit non-humanitarian aid to Kenya if the government does not act to reduce violence. The bulk of American aid to Kenya goes to HIV/AIDS programs which would likely not be affected.

And in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs subcommittee, the top American diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, called for an independent investigation into the post-election violence in Kenya.

The European Commissioner for Humanitarian and Development Aid, Louis Michel, was also in Nairobi on Thursday for meetings with the negotiators, calling for compromise between the two sides.

Meanwhile, U.N. Undersecretary for Human Rights Louise Arbour has dispatched a three-week fact finding mission on human rights abuses.

Breaking news - No peace deal in Kenya, says Annan

53 minutes ago

Former UN chief Kofi Annan, who is mediating talks between Kenya's political rivals, has said that reports of a power-sharing agreement aimed at ending weeks of bloodshed are premature.

"I sincerely hope we will complete our work by early next week," Mr Annan said. But a statement by an opposition MP that a deal had been reached "was jumping the gun", he said.

Earlier, William Rutto, from the opposition Orange Democratic Movement said: "We have finally agreed there is a problem in the country and neither side can proceed on its own."

He added: "We have agreed to form a joint government (with President Mwai Kibaki). Details of that government, its time and how to share it are under discussions."

Opposition leader Raila Odinga has retreated from earlier calls for Mr Kibaki to step down over the disputed presidential election in December.

"We are saying that we are willing to give and take. Initially our stand was that we won the elections, and Mr Kibaki lost the elections, he should resign, and we should be sworn in, but we have said that we are not static on that point," Mr Odinga said.

Speaking at a prayer meeting in Nairobi before the power sharing agreement was revealed, Mr Kibaki said he was "encouraged" by progress in talks and reiterated "my personal support and that of my entire government to this process."

He added that "those who mastermind or engage in acts of violence will pay for their criminal activities."

The violence that erupted in the wake of the election that the opposition accuses Mr Kibaki of stealing has already displaced around 300,000 people and claimed over 1,000 lives.

Around 5,000 people fled a makeshift camp for those displaced by the violence in the western town of Kericho, fearing trouble ahead of the funeral for an opposition MP killed last week. Only about 1,000 people were left in the camp, said Red Cross official Susan Onyango.

[Anybody hear where the 5,000 who fled are headed?]

Copyright © 2008 The Press Association. All rights reserved.

More breaking news - U.S. Intensifies Efforts to End Deadly Conflict in Kenya

Published: February 8, 2008

NAIROBI, KenyaThe American government is playing an increasingly active role in trying to restore peace in Kenya, holding hearings in Washington on Thursday and threatening to prohibit some Kenyan politicians from entering the United States.

A spokesman for the American Embassy in Kenya said Thursday that the embassy had written to 10 politicians and businessmen warning that they and their relatives would be denied entry into the United States if the embassy determined that they had instigated or taken part in violence.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Kenya since a disputed election in December, and human rights groups have said much of the violence was organized. The American Embassy is warning people in the government and the opposition, and is trying to use the issue of visas to press the leaders to act responsibly and support efforts to reach a political compromise.

“We consider the violence as the most immediate issue to deal with,” said T. J. Dowling, the embassy spokesman. “We wanted to let these people know that we are scrutinizing their acts and we will take action accordingly.”

On Thursday, the Senate held hearings into the underlying causes of the unrest and how it affected other countries in the region. Until December, Kenya was known as an anchor state in East Africa, and it remains a base of operations for extensive aid efforts in some of its more turbulent neighbors, like Somalia, Sudan and Congo. The House of Representatives held similar hearings on Wednesday.

“Kenya is an important partner for the United States,” said Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin and chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on African affairs, in a statement. “But the lack of progress in addressing a number of deep-rooted problems, including political marginalization, land disputes and endemic corruption, appear to have taken a toll. By many accounts, the situation in Kenya could still get much worse.”

The American government has temporarily removed nearly 150 Peace Corps volunteers from Kenya. American officials said that even though Americans had not been the targets of attacks, the continuing instability, which included mob killings and roadblocks across the country, had made it dangerous for the volunteers to remain at their rural posts.

The Kenyan government seems to be swinging into action as well. On Thursday, police officials announced that they were charging an officer with murder in the shooting of an unarmed protester.

Eric Kiraithe, a spokesman for the Kenyan police, said the government had arrested the officer, who was shown on Kenyan television last month shooting a protester at close range, then kicking him in the ribs with combat boots. The protester was unarmed and had been dancing and making faces. He later died. The same police officer has also been charged in the shooting death of another unarmed protester at the same demonstration.

Police officials were quick to note that the officer was from the Kalenjin ethnic group, which tends to support the opposition.

“This appears to be a clear case of criminal misconduct,” Mr. Kiraithe said. “It has nothing to do with tribe.”

Police officers have also arrested more than 20 men this week on suspicion of terrorizing women in Naivasha, where mobs recently killed dozens of people. The men have been accused of molesting and attacking women who wore pants instead of skirts. The police said the suspects were part of a gang that took advantage of the disorder to push its harsh, and often mysterious, code of conduct.

Kenya plunged into turmoil in December after its electoral commission declared that President Mwai Kibaki had narrowly beaten the top opposition leader, Raila Odinga. Observers cited widespread evidence of vote rigging.

The controversy uncorked years of frustration over political, economic and land issues, pitting opposition supporters against members of the president’s ethnic group and groups perceived as supporting the government. Representatives from the government and the opposition have been meeting for the past week with Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, to seek a resolution.

On Thursday, the talks became more tense, with each side claiming to have won the election and neither offering meaningful concessions, said an official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

1 - Annan hopes for Kenya political deal in days

Fri Feb 8, 2008 10:33am EST
By Andrew Cawthorne and C. Bryson Hull

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's feuding political parties have made progress and may reach a breakthrough within days on their major sticking point over a disputed December 27 election, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Friday.

"I sincerely hope that we will conclude our work on item three, the settlement of the political issues, by early next week," said Annan, who is mediating the dispute.

"We are all agreed a political settlement is necessary with a little patience and a bit of luck," he added, without giving details on the progress made.

Riots and ethnic attacks have killed more than 1,000 people and uprooted 300,000 since the December 27 polls, shattering Kenya's image as a stable business, tourism and transport hub.

Negotiators for President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have already agreed on principles to stem violence and help refugees, but had been stuck this week on the crucial dispute over the tallying of the December ballot.

Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) says Kibaki supporters rigged the vote, but Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) says the opposition cheated in its heartland and points to the election board's announcement Kibaki had won.

Annan has given both sides until mid-February to resolve that issue and then move on to tackle deeper underlying problems like land and wealth inequality within a year.

He dismissed speculation in local media that the parties had reached an agreement on sharing power in a government of national unity.

"Please don't pay much attention to the
speculations and the rumors," Annan said.

Officials on both sides of the political divide declined to give details of the progress in negotiations, but said talks were moving forward.

Kenya's election unrest has laid bare deep divisions over land, wealth and power that date from colonial rule and have since been stoked by politicians.

Annan said earlier the negotiations could not afford to fail. Mutula Kilonzo, a member of the government's negotiating team, agreed.

"We cannot afford our people using bows and arrows, people being pulled out of buses to be asked 'which language do you speak?' and then being chopped," Kilonzo said.

In addition to hundreds of deaths, the turmoil in Kenya has uprooted 300,000 people, many living in squalid conditions and fearful of returning home.

To assess the situation, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, flew in on Friday for a three-day trip and was due on Saturday to visit Rift Valley towns hit by tribal clashes.

Foreign ministers from the regional IGAD bloc threw their weight behind Annan on Friday, rejecting opposition charges they were visiting Kenya to launch separate talks to undermine him.

(For special coverage from Reuters on Kenya's crisis see: http ://

(Additional reporting by Peter Graff in London)
(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Mary Gabriel)
© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

2 - Kenya parties see progress but no final deal

Fri Feb 8, 2008 9:37am EST

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Officials from Kenya's government and opposition said on Friday that talks to resolve their dispute over President Mwai Kibaki's re-election had moved forward but not reached a final deal.

"I don't think it's really going to be a breakthrough, but rather an agreement of principles," a senior government official told Reuters.

An opposition leader, William Ruto, said: "There is positive news, but no final solution yet."

Asked about local media speculation that the two sides had agreed to share power in a government of national unity, Ruto said: "I don't think so. That is not the case."

Sources on both sides said they would not divulge details of the talks' progress, but that mediator and former U.N. boss Kofi Annan would announce more at a news conference.

Having agreed principles to stem violence and help refugees, negotiators for the two sides have been stuck this week on how to overcome their differences on the tallying of votes from the December 27 ballot.

(Reporting by Bryson Hull and Andrew Cawthorne)
© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

3 - Progress at Kenya's peace talks

Kenya's ruling party and opposition have agreed they need to work towards a political settlement in Nairobi to end post-election bloodshed, officials say.

The two sides are trying to break the deadlock that has left Kenya wracked by unrest since December's elections.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, told reporters the sides were working towards a settlement but said earlier reports of a deal were premature.

Some 1,000 people have died and 300,000 others fled their homes in the clashes.

Mr Annan said: "We are all agreed that a political settlement is needed, that a political settlement is necessary and we are working out the details of such a settlement."

'Commendable progress'
The agreement represents a significant development and follows weeks of intransigence from both sides, says the BBC's Karen Allen in Nairobi.

Speaking at a prayer service in Nairobi on Friday, President Mwai Kibaki said he was "encouraged by the commendable progress" in the peace talks.

Mr Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential election, which observers said was deeply flawed.
The opposition Orange Democratic Movement, led by Raila Odinga, had said it was cheated of victory and called for a re-run of the poll.

But Mr Kibaki's Party of National Unity had insisted the opposition should challenge the disputed result through the courts.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/02/08 15:17:02 GMT© BBC MMVIII

4 - Kenyan parties 'agree coalition principles'

By Tom Chivers and agencies
Last Updated: 3:13pm GMT 08/02/2008

The two main political parties in Kenya have agreed in principle to form a coalition government in an attempt to end weeks of bloody violence, according to reports. [This claim is disputed in Reuters and BBC stories above.]

William Rutto [sp - Ruto], of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement party, said that discussions with President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity government were at an early stage, but that both sides were aware of the need for a solution to the country's problems.

A government spokesman said that talks had led to an "agreement of principles", but said there had been no major breakthrough.

The former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who is in Kenya spearheading the crisis resolution talks, said it was still too early to talk of a power-sharing agreement.

Last weekend Mr Kibaki said that he was "encouraged" by the progress of talks and gave his "personal support and that of my entire government to this process".

The bloodshed began in the aftermath of a
general election that was widely held to be flawed. EU election observers described the poll as falling well below international standards, and called for an inquiry.

Each side accused the other of vote-rigging and election fraud.

Since then it is believed that over 1,000 people have died in violence that has at times been
reminiscent of Rwanda in 1994. President Kibaki has been accused of genocide as the chaos in the country has spiralled out of control.

The two sides have yet to agree upon who would lead the government and the roles the two parties would play in the mooted coalition government.

However, Mr Rutto said: "We have finally agreed there is a problem in the country and neither side can proceed on its own."

Meanwhile Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has warned that Kenya is facing
a breakdown in vital services
in the months to come, with food and health
supplies at particular risk, due to the exodus of over three hundred thousand
people fleeing the recent violence.

Filipe Ribeiro, MSF's emergency aid coordinator for Kenya, told AFP the mass emigration will affect both rural areas and major population centres.

"The fact that people are pouring into slums where the population already is struggling to cope will cause a big problem for food security in urban areas," Mr Ribeiro said. "We will be closely watching the food situation in the months to come."

5 - Annan meets Kibaki and Raila

Story by NATION Reporter
Publication Date: 2/8/2008

Mediator Kofi Annan has gone into a meeting with President Kibaki and his rival Raila Odinga where he is to report progress on the talks to resolve Kenya’s political crisis.

The former UN chief is meeting the two leaders at Nairobi’s Harambee House where President Kibaki has a second office.

Mr Annan is due to address a Press conference soon after his meeting with the two leaders.

Representatives from the Government and the Orange Democratic Movement have in the last three days been tackling political issues that are believed to be crucial to resolving the political impasse following the disputed December 27 presidential election.

Mr Annan is chairing a panel of eminent Africans that include former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa and former South African first lady Graca Machel.

The three are leading mediation efforts where President Kibaki is represented by Justice Minister Martha Karua, Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetangula, Education minister Sam Ongeri and Mbooni MP Mutula Kilonzo. Mr Odinga is represented by former Vice-President Musalia Mudavadi, Eldoret North MP William Ruto, Aldai MP Sally Kosgei and Ugenya MP James Orengo.

More details soon.

6 - UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Arrives in Nairobi

By VOA News 08 February 2008

United Nations emergency relief coordinator John Holmes has arrived in Kenya for a three-day visit to assess the humanitarian crisis there.

At least 1,000 people have been killed - and 300,000 displaced - in political protests and ethnic violence triggered by the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki on December 27.

Holmes told reporters that a political solution is needed to stop the violence and that negotiators should "keep pressure on all sides" of the dispute.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is mediating the talks between Kenya's rival political leaders in an effort to resolve the crisis. Friday, visiting East African leaders threw their support behind Mr. Annan's efforts after meeting with both sides in the dispute.

The European Union development commissioner, Luis Michel, is participating in the talks. He said Thursday that the political rivals are showing signs of flexibility.

Kenya's opposition claims Mr. Kibaki rigged the vote to secure re-election. The president says he won a fair race.
In other news, Kenyan police say they will charge one of their officers with murder after he was filmed shooting two people to death during post-election violence last month.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

7 - Kenya policeman denies murdering 2 protesters

Fri Feb 8, 2008 6:14am EST

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A Kenyan policeman caught on camera apparently shooting two protesters in a western town pleaded not guilty to murder on Friday.

Constable Edward Kirui is accused of killing George William Onyango and Ishmael Chacha during political demonstrations on January 16 in Kisumu, an opposition stronghold.

"I am not guilty," Kirui told Judge Muga Apondi as the two murder charges were read to him at a Nairobi court.
A police investigation identified Kirui from TV footage of a policeman firing his assault rifle at the two youths, who were in a group that taunted and earlier threw rocks at officers.

After he fired, the footage showed the officer walking to the men and kicking one of them as he tried to stand up.
The images drew condemnation from the opposition and human rights groups, which said the incident was an example of police brutality employed to quell the protests.

The prosecution said it would call 30 witnesses.

More than 1,000 people have been killed following ethnic clashes that began as protests against the re-election of President Mwai Kibaki on December 27. The violence worsened into politically tinged ethnic killings.

(For special coverage from Reuters on Kenya's crisis see:
(Reporting by Robert Hummy, Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; editing by Robert Woodward)
© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

8 - Displaced Kenyans Flee Town Due To Ethnic Fighting

By Matthew Williams 15:50, February 8th 2008
1 vote

On Friday Red Cross announced that thousands of Kenyans fled on Thursday from a western town because of ethnic fighting just before the funeral of a slain opposition lawmaker was scheduled to take place this weekend.

President Mwai Kibaki seemed to be encouraged by the progress which was made in talks to end the violence triggered by the presidential election on December 27.

He is accused by opposition leaders from stealing the vote from rival candidate Raila Odinga.

Ever since the election over 1,000 people have been killed and more than 300,000 people were displaced.

Last week an opposition legislator was killed in what police is saying was a crime of passion. On the other hand the opposition describes it as political assassination.

Ever since then there were attacks in the policeman's ethnic group, the Kisii. His funeral is scheduled to take place on Saturday.

Families from western town of Kericho gathered in the main street to fill the vans from the
government that were ready to place them into areas where there was a more predominant presence of their ethnic group.

According to Red Cross official Susan Onyango, 5,000 people left the camp built for them and left about 1,000 behind.

Opposition leaders are asking Kibaki to step down, but Odinga showed his flexibility on Thursday regarding this matter after a
meeting with EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel.

He said: "We are saying that we are willing to give and take. Initially our stand was that we won the elections, and Mr. Kibaki lost the elections, he should resign, and we should be sworn in, but we have said that we are not static on that point," the Associated Press informs.

The U.S. threatened on Thursday to bar Kenyan politicians and businessmen who supposedly played a role in the violence after December 27.

The decision was welcomed by Kibaki as well as the opposition. Even so Kenyan human rights groups, foreign observers and diplomats say that is visible that both sides helped at organizing the attacks.

© 2007 - 2008 - eFluxMedia

9 - Kenya's ruling party and opposition agree to form joint government

Associated Press - February 8, 2008 10:03 AM ET

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - An opposition lawmaker says his party and Kenya's ruling party are forming a joint government in an effort to end the violence that has killed at least 1,000 people. [NB - disputed by Reuters and BBC]

The lawmaker says the two sides are still discussing who will lead the government and what role each party will play.

Bloodshed has swept the African nation since the disputed presidential election in December, forcing 300,000 people from their homes.

International and domestic observers have heavily criticized the vote tallying, and the head of the electoral commission has said he isn't sure who won the election.

There is no word from the government or President Mwai Kibaki's (mwy kih-BAH'-keez) Party of National Unity on the agreement. Kofi Annan, who has been mediating peace talks, is planning to make a statement later today.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

9 - KENYA: IDPs leave city for "ancestral homes"

08 Feb 2008 13:16:09 GMT 08 Feb 2008 13:16:09 GMT

Source: IRIN

Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.

NAIROBI, 8 February 2008 (
IRIN) - Thousands of people displaced from the suburbs on the western edge of the capital, Nairobi, have left for their "ancestral homes" in western Kenya, according to humanitarian workers.

"We had a total of 17,000 people here [Kabete Police Station]- [NB: On Nairobi-Naivasha Road, northwestern side of Nairobi] last week but they have been leaving since Friday [1 February] for their ancestral homes in areas such as Kisumu, Bondo, Busia, Kakamega and Kitale," Regina Munguti, a volunteer with the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, told IRIN on 8 February.

She said the displaced had fled their rental houses in Kikuyu, Kinoo and Ndumbuini areas after they received leaflets threatening them with death. Most of were from Luo and Luhya communities, she added.

Munguti said only eight of the 17 families still left at the camp for displaced people had said they had nowhere to go.

"These are the families who know no other home apart from the houses they vacated; they would not know where to go once they get to western Kenya," she said. "We have referred four children, a girl and three boys, to a children's home after they got separated from their families."

The displacement in Nairobi as well as in the central Kenya region has followed the initial displacement of thousands of people from Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces, which were hardest hit by the violence that erupted in late December 2007 following disputed presidential elections.

Protests over the re-election of President Mwai Kibaki led to the violence that has so far claimed at least 1,000 lives and displaced 300,000 more, mostly from Rift Valley Province. The violence has since taken on ethnic dimensions, with the communities who find themselves the minority in such areas at risk of death.

"Life has been difficult here at the police station and I am glad that I am scheduled to leave today," Samson Opoyo, a tailor who had lived in Uthiru Gichagi [western Nairobi] for 10 years, said. "When we left our homes about a week-and-a-half ago, I had my wife and three children with me but I have since managed to have them taken to my original home in Oyugis [Nyanza Province]. I hope to board a bus any time now."

The buses carrying the displaced join other commercial bus convoys to western Kenya that have a security presence.

Munguti said 50 of the IDPs left on 8 February for Bondo and Busia areas of Nyanza and Western provinces and that another 22 were due to leave later in the day for Kitale, a town in Rift Valley Province.

She said the transportation of the IDPs was being carried out by charitable organisations and individual volunteers.
Lifeskills Promoters, an educational NGO working with youths aged between 18 and 24, has provided transport for most of the Kabete IDPs.

"We realised that many youths had been caught up in the crisis in our country and after visiting this camp, transportation was identified as the most urgent need," Isaac Mwaniki, a partnerships officer for Lifeskills Promoters, told IRIN. "Today we are organising the transportation of 22 people to Kitale [western Kenya]."

The Kenya Red Cross Society has been providing food for the IDPs at Kabete Police Station, Munguti said. Women and children were sleeping in a hall nearby while the men spent the nights in the open, she added.

© IRIN. All rights reserved. More humanitarian news and analysis:

10 - Sun, sea and miles of empty beach: the paradise that faces disaster

Violent unrest after election has driven away the tourists - mainstay of the economy

Xan Rice in MombasaFriday February 8, 2008

GuardianThe white sands were deserted. Palm trees swayed in the evening breeze, as a dhow and several pleasure boats bobbed on the warm Indian Ocean waters.

It was a snapshot of paradise, but to the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans involved in tourism - and to their millions of dependants - the empty beaches brought to mind another word: disaster.

The unrest that followed the disputed election of President Mwai Kibaki on December 27 has decimated Kenya's tourist industry, which is the mainstay of the economy and normally accounts for 15% of GDP. More than 100,000 holidaymakers, a fifth of them British, were expected to visit the coastal resorts and safari lodges this month. But following travel warnings and graphic scenes of violence on television, just 9,000 tourists are now expected.

All UK charter flights have been cancelled until the summer, as have most from continental Europe, leaving hotels empty, thousands of waiters, cleaners and bar staff on compulsory leave, and taxi drivers, curio sellers and tourist guides with no income.

"Even after al-Qaida bombed the US embassy here in 1998 it was not as bad as this," said Jake Grieves-Cook, of the Kenya Tourist Board, who said that at least 20,000 hotel workers had already lost their jobs. "This is the worst crisis the industry has ever faced."

Kenya's government has been slow to acknowledge the scale of the problem, leaving tour operators frustrated and angry. Yesterday the information minister, Samuel Poghisio, admitted that the last month had been a "dark period in history", but said the violence was fading and urged tourists not be put off, as the situation was "not what you hear and what you see".

The hard facts - more than 1,000 people dead and more than 300,000 displaced - tell their own story, but it is true that tourist areas have been largely unaffected by the unrest. Most of the clashes between ethnic groups, and between police and protesters, have happened in the west, off the safari circuit, or in low-income areas of Nairobi.

The exceptions were the lakeside towns of Naivasha and Nakuru, which erupted into violence last week, but local travel agents say it is now safe to travel there. All are desperate to stress that throughout the crisis not a single foreign holidaymaker has been harmed.

The few intrepid tourists on safari trips in recent weeks have sometimes had an entire resort to themselves. In the Masai Mara and Samburu game reserves, as well as the lush foothills around Mount Kenya, some lodges have shut for the season rather than open for only one or two guests.

But it is along the picturesque coastal region, which generates around two-thirds of all tourist revenue, that the effects are most keenly felt. Nearly all the hotels, from all-inclusive package destinations to the plush five-star resorts, were overbooked for January and February. But as soon Kibaki was controversially sworn in on December 30, sparking the violence, the cancellations started to pour in. Flights from Europe arrived empty and departed full.

Statistics compiled at a recent crisis meeting of coastal hoteliers show just how dire the situation is. Of the 28 resorts surveyed, occupancy rates ranged from zero to 36%. Only one of the hotels had yet to lay off staff.

A few miles north of Mombasa the Sarova Whitesands resort, the second largest hotel in East Africa, was eerily quiet. Only 60 of the 338 rooms were occupied. All the casual and contract staff have been sent home, and half the employees are on compulsory leave. A sign leading to one section of the five-star hotel saying "You are now entering a quiet zone" was redundant: the entire wing was vacant.

A £2.5m refurbishment programme has been put on hold, said Mohammed Hersi, the general manager, as he read yet another email from a British client cancelling a holiday. "We are trying to cut costs everywhere just to stay afloat."
Hersi said that if the effort by the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan to broker a deal between the government and opposition failed, the entire tourism industry, which employs 250,000 workers directly, and is responsible for an equal number of indirect jobs, "would face a tragedy" that would take years to get over.

For some tourists the knowledge that ordinary Kenyans rather than the elite political class would suffer if they cancelled their trip persuaded them to go ahead. At the Turtle Bay Beach Club in Watamu, on the north coast, which attracts mainly British tourists, Gren and Beryl Davison, and Gordon and Joan Usher, all from Northumberland, were relaxing on the beach.

"Some of our family members weren't happy about us coming," said Joan Usher, who has been to Watamu every year since 1999. "But after we thought of the local staff and what would happen to them if nobody came on holiday, we decided to stick to our plans. We are having a great time."

With Britain and the US amending their travel advice, now warning citizens to avoid only certain areas rather than the entire country, some hoteliers are hoping they can salvage something from the season. At the £100-a-night Leopard Beach resort in Diani, south of Mombasa, where millions of pounds have been spent in the last year constructing a spa, manager Francis Murabe said: "Tell people in Britain that now is the time for the best holiday. It's so quiet that we are upgrading all our guests into the best rooms. Newlyweds won't just get the honeymoon suite, they'll get the master suite."

In figures

· Tourism is Kenya's biggest foreign exchange earner, with revenue topping £500m last year. The industry has grown at 10% to 20% a year for the last four years
· More than a million tourists visited in 2007, the highest figure ever. Some 203,000 were British
· Between January and March 315,000 tourists were expected. The Kenya Tourist Board says the likely figure is now 27,000, resulting in lost revenue of about £126m
· There are 250,000 people working in tourism, with a further 250,000 indirectly employed. Each employee typically supports seven to 12 people
· For every eight tourists who visit, one more job is created.

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