Kenyans Miffed About Exclusion From Bush Tour

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - President Bush's decision to exclude Kenya from the itinerary of his just-concluded African tour, coming on top of U.S. travel advisories relating to terrorism fears, has drawn some critical reactions here.

Bush visited Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria and Uganda - Kenya's neighbor - last week, but longstanding U.S. ally Kenya was left out because of security concerns.

Many Kenyans had hoped a visit by the president would help restore international confidence in Kenya, which has suffered several severe terrorist attacks in recent years.

The latest terrorism fears prompted the State Department to issue advisories recommending that American nationals avoid travel to East Africa.

Similar warnings came from Kenya's former colonial ruler, Britain, and led to the cancellation of flights by several major airlines, dealing a heavy blow to the crucial tourism industry.

That was followed by statements by the just-departed U.S. Ambassador, Johnnie
Carson, who warned that the mission could be closed because of "Kenya's failure to arrest terrorists, some of whom are Kenyans."

The series of events has left a bad taste here, and some publicly welcomed Carson's exit earlier this month, following four years in the post.

"Goodbye sir, and good riddance," ran the headline in an editorial in one Nairobi daily.

"Although the ambassador would have liked to be remembered for helping to strengthen and improve relations between Kenya and the United States, he instead leaves behind a country that actively dislikes America and reacts to everything from that powerful state with knee-jerk rejection," wrote a commentator in the Daily Nation.

Several Kenyans whose opinions were sought suggested the U.S. decision not to visit their country was a "wake-up call."

Stephen Ndegwa of the Media Development Association, a non-governmental organization, said omitting Kenya from President Bush's itinerary was a lesson that Kenyans should seek their own solutions to the country's problems.

"Kenyans now know where America has placed them," he said, citing the travel advisories and their crippling effect on local tourism.

Catherine Ngammau, a bio-tech employee, said the president's decision not to visit Kenya was a "non-issue."

"Bush does not have to come to Kenya," she said. "It's high time we learned not to depend on external support."

But Kuol Athian, who works for a relief organization helping the victims of the long and costly civil war in neighboring Sudan, expressed disappointment that Bush did not stop over in Kenya.

Had he done so, he might have applied much-needed pressure on the parties involved in the Sudan conflict to resolve it quickly, he said.

A 17-month-old, U.S.-supported peace process facilitated by Kenya faces collapse over political and security disagreements between the Sudanese government and southern rebels.

Kenya has been targeted by terrorists a number of times. While the targets of the attackers were foreign - usually American or Israeli - most of the victims have been Kenyans.

In 1980, a bomb wrecked the ballroom of a Jewish-owned hotel in the capital, killing 15 people and wounding more than 80. Most of the victims of the attack, for which a Palestinian terrorist group claimed responsibility, were locals.

The deadliest attack occurred in 1998, when al-Qaeda terrorists bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, killing more than 200 people, again mostly Kenyans. A near- simultaneous bombing targeted the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam, the capital of neighboring Tanzania.

Last November, terrorists suspected of links to al Qaeda struck again, bombing an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, killing 10 Kenyans and three Israelis.

At the same time, an attempt to shoot down an Israeli chartered plane failed.

Regional analyst Dr. Moustafa Hassouna said Bush's decision not to visit Kenya was an indication of the high level of insecurity here.

"We should seek to improve our security because this is a big vote of no-confidence," he said.

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