Last year at this time, we were proud to tell you the tourism industry in Kenya was at an all time high. More than 100,000 tourists a year were traveling to this African country, going on safari, visiting sustainable coffee plantations and bringing more than $900 million a year in revenue to a country haunted by its controversial past.
The controversy stems in part from racial hostilities that developed around the turn of the century during the British occupation. This was somewhat overcome during the later half of the 20th century when Kenya's government worked in conjunction with its Tourism Federation to change the image of an impoverished nation plagued by political turmoil and ethnic violence, and create a Kenya with welcoming people and stability.
Unfortunately, after a highly contested election this past December the tourism industry felt a huge blow. President Mwai Kibaki was elected by a slim margin, over Raila Odinga, the democrat challenger, 4,584,721 votes to 4,352,993. The contentious tally sparked violence throughout Kenya overnight, resulting in more than 500 deaths. Businesses across the nation, including in the capitol city of Nairobi, were closed down and a government ban on live television broadcasts was imposed. The Nairobi stock exchange was closed following the election and ships docking at the Port of Mombasa were denied entrance because transporters feared being attacked by militias.
The bloodshed has affected the tourism trade enormously according to officials from the Kenya Tourism Federation. "The image of lunatics with machetes is something we'll have to overcome," a tourism attaché said confidentially.
For now, the United States and Britain warned citizens against all but essential travel to Kenya, which means that thousands of tourists who were expected to arrive to the coast over the next few months will more than likely cancel their trips.
David Ndii, an independent economist, said recently that "it's difficult to predict the full economic impact of Kenya's political violence, but it will certainly cut the growth rate Kenya recorded last year. In addition to tourism, tea and coffee are key to an economy seen as the region's anchor."
We know that the rich soil and cooler climate found in the White Highlands, as they've been commonly referred to since British colonization, produce a substantial amount of Kenya's coffee. In total, more than 189 million pounds of coffee were exported in 2000, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
So what does that mean to the jobs and security for more than 250,000 Kenyans involved in the coffee cultivation process? Both large coffee estates and smaller coffee co-ops near Mt. Kenya are at risk. Any progress that Kenya's Agriculture Minister Kipruto Kirwa made last year by repaying farmers $9.5 million in lost revenue is gone. Any boost in agricultural productivity, as well as a cushion farmers had from adverse prices in the international market, may be lost.
To date, Amos Kimunya, Kenya's finance minister, said the bloodshed had cost the country $1 billion.
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