Tourists abandon restive Kenya

The number of tourists arriving in Kenya last month was 90% less than anticipated, reports said, following weeks of violence and unrest that have marred the image of the nation known for its fabled game parks and pristine coastline.

Kenya relies heavily on its once bustling tourism industry for foreign exchange, but the aftermath of the disputed December 27 elections forced many visitors to cancel their trips in what is ordinarily the peak season.

“Kenya is not the first country to be affected by such a crisis and I urge stakeholders to focus ahead,” Jake Grieves-Cook, chairperson of the Kenya Tourist Board, was quoted as saying in the independent Daily Nation.

The Standard, Kenya’s oldest newspaper, reported only about 8 000 tourists arrived in the country instead of the expected 100 000.

Thousands of people have lost their jobs over the decline in tourism, with usually packed hotels at the Indian Ocean coast and in game parks nearly empty.

About two million tourists travelled to Kenya in 2007, an increase of 12,5% from the year before, according to Kenya’s tourism ministry. The industry is Kenya’s third-largest foreign-exchange earner.

Grand coalition

Meanwhile, Kofi Annan sought support from the country’s divided Parliament on Tuesday for an imminent political deal to pull the country out of turmoil that has left more than 1 000 people dead.

As negotiations brokered by Annan entered a third week, the feuding parties inched closer to a settlement of the dispute sparked by President Mwai Kibaki’s re-election, with an announcement expected by late on Thursday.

The former United Nations secretary general said the government and the opposition had agreed to set up an independent committee to probe “all aspects” of the December 27 election that the opposition claims was rigged.

He also indicated that a political deal could entail the creation of a “grand coalition” government that would bring together Kibaki’s governing party and the opposition led by Raila Odinga.

“Grand coalitions have served other nations well and these are often formed when a country is in crisis,” Annan said.

“They come together to try to work out the fundamental issues, make constitutional and other changes required and then eventually organise an election,” he said.

According to the Kenyan Red Cross, more than 1 000 people have died in rioting, tribal clashes and police raids since the vote and 300 000 people have lost their homes, shattering Kenya’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable countries.

“You must all see yourselves as Kenyans first,” Annan told the Parliament session which began with a minute of silence for two opposition MPs gunned down in the post-election violence.

“I urge you to be pro-active within your own community to foster this vision of one Kenya with a common destiny.”

Annan on Monday decided to move the crisis talks to a secret venue outside Nairobi and imposed a complete news blackout as negotiators from both sides headed into a final, difficult round of bargaining.

The goal is to reach “an agreement on the outstanding political issues in the next 48 to 72 hours”, said a UN statement issued late on Monday.

Annan said in Parliament that negotiators would then move on to the fourth and final chapter of the talks, which broaches land reform and accountability.

The new Parliament, which was elected in polls also held on December 27, is almost equally divided between Kibaki’s party and its supporters and Odinga’s opposition party and its allies.

But speaker Kenneth Marende pledged Parliament’s support for Annan’s effort to end the turmoil which has seen Kenyans hacked to death by machete-wielding mobs, burnt in churches where they had sought refuge and driven off their land.

“The national assembly is willing and ready to play its rightful role in finding a sustainable and lasting peace for our country,” Marende said.

Relative calm appeared to take hold across the country for the first time in weeks. Police reported no incidents overnight in western Kenya, which had been the worst hit by the violence.

In power since 2002, 76-year-old Kibaki was proclaimed the winner of the December election that international observers said was flawed and the opposition claims was rigged.

Speculation about the agreement has centred on a possible power-sharing government in which the opposition was demanding that Odinga (62) be named prime minister, a post that would have to be created by constitutional amendment.

Kenyan press reports have also said negotiations could yield a raft of reforms that could pave the way to fresh elections in two years.

An independent panel that could include foreign as well as Kenyan officials is to investigate the elections and release findings later this year.

“We agreed that it was important not to sweep matters under the carpet,” Annan said.
“We need to understand and know what happened during the 2007 presidential election.”

Kenya’s world-famous safari resorts and beach hotels have suffered a bruising loss of business while the country’s economic upswing, with growth at 7%, could soon flatten out. - Reuters, Sapa-DPA

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