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Britain downplays Kenya election fears

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The British government has downplayed fears ahead of Monday's Kenya elections by advising its citizens touring or living in the country to still go ahead with their normal duties during poll.

An advisory by the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth office acknowledges that while “tensions are likely to increase as elections approach and afterwards”, tourists and business people are not advised to avoid Kenya.

The British government has however delivered a strong statement rejecting claims in the Kenya media that the West has been “interfering in Kenya’s elections.

“This is an allegation we reject,” the advisory says. "(However) British nationals have not been singled out. (The reports) may have increased the threat to Westerners over the election period and we urge continued vigilance.”

The Ministry of Defence and the British High Commission in Nairobi have also said that a battle group of British troops that recently arrived in Kenya were there for training and not to act as security for British citizens should security deteriorate, as was rumoured.

While there have been lurid reports in some of the UK press about violence after the poll, the London based international magazine, the Economist said that “the single best insurance against widespread violence may be the enormous attention the election is attracting, both at home and abroad."

“Calls for calm have come from a series of international statesmen, including Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general who is acting as the African Union’s special envoy, and US President Barack Obama, whose father was born in Kenya.”

Diplomats have privately spoken to community leaders and their governments have spent USD100m on technical assistance.

The US government has however renewed its travel warnings for Kenya based on a threat of terrorism, border skirmishes, violent crime in the cities and political unrest during election time.

Most tour operators in the UK have avoided commenting on the forthcoming election.

But one organisation, About Africa travel, pointed out that even in 2007/08 few tourism areas were affected by the violence.

“In 2007/8 there was a significant amount of political unrest in Kenya which kept nearly all tourists out of the country, despite the fact that barely any major national parks or beach resorts were affected.”

Five separate international monitoring missions will be present. Kenyan civil society groups are adding a sixth, ELOG, which will field 30,000 monitors across the country.

“Kenya has a good chance of avoiding a national meltdown so long as the winning margin in the election is large enough,” the Economist says. “If it becomes hard to tell who has won—especially amid allegations of rigging—and the judiciary and security forces act unfairly, then trouble will loom.

Following the controversial 2007 presidential election and the crisis that followed, tourism revenues plummeted 54 per cent from 2007 in the first quarter of 2008.

Tourist numbers fell from 273,000 to 130,000 in a year and the revenue shrunk to Sh8 billion from Sh17.5 billion the year before.

Business travel also shrunk by 21 per cent from 45,300 to 35,900.

Britain’s Department for International Development said that Kenya “has the largest economy in east Africa, but there is a risk that the economic potential will not be realised if political stability cannot be maintained."

"UK support in Kenya aims to promote stability – stimulating growth led by business and improving service delivery.”


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