Going to war over tourism

Frequent FP contributor Micah Zenko looks at the motivations for Kenya’s latest incursion over the border into Somalia: The invasion was initially justified as a response to three kidnappings of westerners in northern Kenya over the past month. Two of those kidnapping attempts resulted in the deaths of a fifty-eight year old British tourist and ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

Frequent FP contributor Micah Zenko looks at the motivations for Kenya's latest incursion over the border into Somalia:

The invasion was initially justified as a response to three kidnappings of westerners in northern Kenya over the past month. Two of those kidnapping attempts resulted in the deaths of a fifty-eight year old British tourist and a sixty-six year old disabled French tourist.

It is understandable that Kenya would seek to protect its tourist industry, which has seen its revenues grow by one-third to $737 million since the post-election violence of 2008. Moreover, the specific threat to Westerners is concerning since they make up the overwhelming majority of tourists who vist Kenya.

Frequent FP contributor Micah Zenko looks at the motivations for Kenya’s latest incursion over the border into Somalia:

The invasion was initially justified as a response to three kidnappings of westerners in northern Kenya over the past month. Two of those kidnapping attempts resulted in the deaths of a fifty-eight year old British tourist and a sixty-six year old disabled French tourist.

It is understandable that Kenya would seek to protect its tourist industry, which has seen its revenues grow by one-third to $737 million since the post-election violence of 2008. Moreover, the specific threat to Westerners is concerning since they make up the overwhelming majority of tourists who vist Kenya.

However, yesterday Mr. Mutua admitted that the kidnapping rationale was actually a “good launchpad,” and that plans for the invasion had “been in the pipeline for a while.” Another anonymous senior Kenyan official added: “This isn’t about tourism. This is about our long-term development plan. Kenya cannot achieve economically what it wants with the situation the way it is in Somalia.”

The Kenyan government may be downplaying the the significance of protecting their tourism industry, and as Zenko points out, there are plenty of other motivations at play here, but a sharp increase in tourist revenue can certainly be a side benefit of putting down a domestic insurgency, at least, for those countries lucky enough to be tourist destinations to begin with. 

Sri Lanka, for instance, saw its number of tourist arrivals jump by about 46 percent between 2009, the year the Tamil Tiger insurgency was brutally defeated, and 2010, according to government figures. Visitors to Colombia increased by 15 percent between 2008 and 2010, as violence sharply decreased following the near-decimation of the FARC. As my colleague Beth Dickinson reported in 2009, Colombia has even been dispensing advice to other recently war-torn states over improving their international image.

Tourism is a kind of natural resource for many countries, and one especially susceptible to disruption from internal violence. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that a country might launch a major military action, in part, to protect it.

Of course, given the success rate of past foreign incursions into Somalia and the fact that this one has already provoked a violent backlash within Kenya itself, it’s not quite clear whether this operation is really going to reassure prospective safari-goers. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: War

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