09-01-2020 by Freddie del Curatolo
In August 1990 Kenya was in the midst of the explosion of tourism and the Kenyan coast was one of the most popular travel agency destinations. New tourist villages were opening like mushrooms, the big tour operators were dividing Malindi and Watamu and the building sector was in great ferment. The Casino opened and the Galana Centre shopping centre was under construction.
The outbreak of the Gulf War blocked Italian tourism for a few months because of the news that appeared in the newspapers (at that time there was no internet and social media and therefore not even fake news) that advised against trips with routes that passed over North African countries allied to the Arab and anti-American world, such as Gaddafi's Libya. And that also the Kenyan coast itself, being full of Muslims and with Somalia in turmoil, could be a potential powder keg.
It took several weeks to convince public opinion that in reality everything was quiet and there was no danger whatsoever (confirmed also by the facts). By December the situation returned to normal. And for Malindi it was one of the memorable tourist seasons.
On 26 January 1991 the collapse of the Somali government, with the expulsion of President Siad Barre and the consequent terrible civil war, blocked the bulk of tourism for more than six months. Thanks also to the influence of a very powerful family in Italy that had sworn revenge on Kenya for personal reasons and the then Foreign Minister who had had a misadventure in Mombasa, for a while Kenyan tourist destinations were taboo. But even then, in reality, more than a few victims of the Somali massacres brought to the Kenyan shores by the currents of the Indian Ocean and refugees gathered in camps near the Tana River, there was no problem or repercussion for the areas frequented by Italians.
So now, with the beginning of a skirmish that seems to be more than just a simple lawsuit and that foreshadows a possible war between Iran and the USA, the name of Kenya is associated with possible dangers and inconveniences, either for the presence of American and British bases, or for the most important United Nations headquarters of Sub-Saharan Africa in Nairobi, or for many interests of multinationals in the country.
Three days after the killing of the influential Persian General Soleimani, the American base on the island of Manda, in the Lamu archipelago, was attacked by a group ascribable to the Somali terrorists of Al Shabaab. Four U.S. citizens were killed.
But what is Kenya really at risk and where could there be real danger?
The U.S. Embassy, already the target of a bomb attack on August 7, 2008 (another inauspicious year for tourism in Kenya, already undermined by the electoral chaos of January), is obviously under maximum surveillance, as is the British military base in Nanyuki, where in recent days two Somali citizens with Canadian passports were discovered and arrested spying on the comings and goings and probably planning something, or transmitting information to third parties.
While on the border with Somalia, in areas absolutely far from the influx of tourists, as always there are episodes of violence (particularly in the Dadaab refugee camp, right on the border line in the middle of the desert), on the coast the attention is high and there are no so-called sensitive targets. Furthermore, the Muslims present on the territory are moderate and many of them have always worked in the tourism sector or thanks to the induced activities they earn well.
There are no American or Israeli owned hotels or businesses in Kilifi County, and to date not even towards Mombasa, as happened on November 26, 2002 in Kikambala, in the suicide attack on the Israeli Paradise Hotel.
Today the US activities are concentrated in the Rift Valley, but needless to say that in the Maasai Mara and Samburu reserves it is not easy to bring a terrorist attack, and in fact there have never been any.
The repercussions of this new senseless war (but when does war ever make sense?) on Kenya could be of an economic nature: Iran is a good importer of tea and coffee from the African country and Kenya is in business for oil and rice. Prices could vary and Kenya would have to limp in a particularly delicate period for its domestic economy, in which growth, while remaining profitable, is slowing down significantly. Moreover, Iran has been close to Kenya in the fight against terrorism for three years and has never openly supported the extremist Somali factions. In September 2016, during an official visit to Nairobi, Tehran spokesman Ali Larijani confirmed the excellent relations between the two nations.
In any case, tourists heading to Malindi, Watamu, Mambrui and Diani, rest assured, Kenya's coast is no more dangerous than the rest of the world. But in this period it is definitely more welcoming.
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