Election violence anxiety puts brakes on Kenya's tourism hopes

Wed Feb 27, 2013 10:26am EST
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By Beatrice Gachenge

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Many beaches on Kenya's sun-kissed Mombasa coast are empty and resorts are half-full on fears that the violence that ripped through the East African country after its last election in 2007 will erupt again when it votes on Monday.

Swedish nuclear-engineer-turned-sun-worshipper Patrik Kilstam said at a resort in Mombasa he will be long gone by the time the first ballot is cast.

"We planned our holiday intentionally to ensure we are out of Kenya before March," said Kilstam, 43, in the country for the first time on a two-week holiday with his wife and daughter.

The sentiment expressed by Kilstam is expected to devastate Kenyan tourism, one of the country's biggest foreign exchange earner, just as it was starting to recover from the after-effects of the 2007-2008 turmoil, when tourism earnings tumbled 20 percent.

Although 2012 earnings have yet to be reported, the sector has made a steady recovery despite a spate of Islamist grenade attacks and the euro zone crisis. Tourism, which raked in $1.2 billion in 2011, accounts for 14 percent of GDP.

No tourists were hurt in the fighting after the disputed 2007 result but the violence was horrific, prompting foreigners already in the country to flee and others to cancel bookings.

The worst single attack occurred on New Year's Day 2008 when youth armed with machetes slashed at men outside a church in the scenic Rift Valley and forced women and children inside the mud-brick building before setting it alight, killing 30.

Then, as now, alliances forged for the elections have lined up another largely ethnic-based contest for political power.   Continued...

Fishermen sail their boat at sunrise in the Indian Ocean near Diani beach in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Natasha Elkington