Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Kenya is tightening security after the killing and kidnapping of foreigners along its coast that threaten to cut tourism revenue and curb investment in a planned $5.3 billion port, Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya said.
“The government has already established a special security unit to deal with this menace, especially to take care of tourists and ensure investors are not scared off,” Oparanya said in a phone interview from Nairobi today. “Kenya is shouldering the burden of Somalia’s problems.”
British tourist David Tebbutt was killed and his wife Judith was abducted last month at a resort in Kiwayu, 503 kilometers (312 miles) southeast of Nairobi, and is being held hostage in neighboring Somalia. On Oct. 1, Marie Dedieu, a 66- year-old disabled French woman, was kidnapped from a house on the nearby Manda Island by armed gunmen from Somalia’s al- Shabaab rebel group, Tourism Minister Najib Balala said in a statement posted on his Twitter account.
The Lamu archipelago, where the incidents took place, is one of Kenya’s main attractions for tourists who generated 73.7 billion shillings ($730.8 million) for the country last year, making it the second-largest foreign-exchange earner after tea. The U.K. government changed its travel advice on Oct. 1 to recommend that visitors to Kenya avoid non-essential travel within 150 kilometers of the border of Somalia, where a civil war has raged for the past two decades.
Kenya is counting on a tripling of tourists to 3 million by 2015 to help achieve its goal of reaching 10 percent economic growth.
The hostage-takings come as Kenya seeks to start developing a second commercial port in Lamu as early as November, designed to handle cargo to northern Kenya as well landlocked Ethiopia and South Sudan, Peter Oremo, a project manager at the Kenya Ports Authority, said on Sept. 29.
The project’s first phase, slated for completion in 2015, involves constructing three berths, followed by building new roads, a railway, an oil pipeline and refinery, airports and three resort cities at a total cost of $25 billion by 2030.
Lamu is depicted as a “peaceful” tropical island whose main town was settled in the 14th century and that bears the hallmarks of Portuguese explorers, Turkish traders and Omani Arabs, according to the website of the state-run Kenya Tourist Board.
“Tourism being an important sector to Kenya’s economy, the government will spare no efforts in ensuring tourists enjoy their holidays and stay in the country without any apprehension,” Balala said.
Several of the “heavily armed” abductors in a boat carrying Dedieu were injured in a gun battle with the Kenyan coastguard. Still, they were able to enter Ras Kamboni, on the southern tip of Somalia, Kenyan Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said in an e-mailed statement on Oct. 1. Tebbutt is being held by al-Shabaab in the Horn of African nation, the British Broadcasting Corp. said on Oct. 2, citing the Somali government.
“Every effort is being made to rescue the victim,” Saitoti said. “The government would like to reassure Kenyans that adequate security measures have been put in place.”
Kenya is rebuilding its reputation as a safe destination following violence in 2007 sparked by a disputed presidential election, in which an estimated 1,500 people died, many at the hands of attackers brandishing machetes.
The clashes damaged the tourism industry and agriculture, as crops were left unattended, causing economic growth to slow to 1.7 percent in 2008, from 7.1 percent a year earlier. Expansion is expected to slow to 5.3 percent this year from 5.6 percent in 2010, according to official government estimates.
--Editors: Paul Richardson, Ana Monteiro.
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