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Stories from the Kenyan bush

28th September 2013 - Why tourists should not worry about the Westgate attacks

lewaOne week ago, just after 11 in the morning, Kara and I received news that one of the larger shopping malls in Nairobi was under attack. At first we hoped that it was just a robbery attempt that had gone wrong but then, as more news trickled through to us, we, as many Kenyans, realized the worst had actually happened! This was the beginning of the Westgate siege.

Now I am not a fan of politics, heck why should I be…. I come from the country where our president looks set to rule for life! (I was born in Zimbabwe) I showed a complete lack of interest (call it ignorance if you like!) in politics across the globe until the 9/11 attacks. Those affected me as I had to break the news to a group of American guests in camp… all of whom lost close family when the twin towers collapsed. The knock on effect of that terrible day forced our camp to close down a few months later as tourists stopped coming to East Africa as the area had been labeled “a terrorist training ground!

Fast forward a few years and I was living in London and working in Mile End when the London bombings took place. I was supposed to be on one of the tubes that blew up but as I was walking into the tube station that morning I saw a bus arrive that was going to Mile End. As it was a sunny day I chose the bus over the tube and disembarking at the entrance to the tube station saw the smoke, heard the alarms and screams and ever since have been a bit paranoid about riding on a tube!

lewaSo why should tourists carry on visiting Kenya? Well… if you lock yourself in your house and refuse to ever leave…. Then the terrorists have won! And we have already seen that these terrible events could happen in any crowded city anywhere in the world. Camps such as the ones that Kara and I work at are small, never more than 10 or 15 tents… hardly a target for a group that wants maximum impact. Also these terrorists are targeting locals as much as they are attacking foreigners. Also, least we forget, but terrorism attacks and uncontrolled shootings have happened even in the most sophisticated cities in the world.

In our camp at Shaba we have over sixty local employees. Often they are the only member of their family with a decent, well paid job. If this camp closed down that would translate into sixty jobless people which could suddenly leave as many as 360 people starving! (Assuming our employee has a wife, 2 kids and is helping look after Mum and Dad and not factoring in the good chance that our employees siblings are probably unemployed!) And that is just one camp….. in the relatively undeveloped Samburu/ Shaba region there are more than twenty camps, some of which employ over 100 staff!

lewa

Having seen, first hand, the reaction to 9/11 when travel bans to East Africa were imposed, I strongly urge foreigners thinking of travelling to carry on with their plans. Sure, exercise caution, but we all need to carry on with our lives and please, don’t be sucked in by diplomats who live in the high risk urban areas or media agencies looking for dramatic twists on stories…. Once you are away from the stress of big cities and are ensconced in the wilderness paradise that Kenya has to offer I assure you that your biggest worry is most likely going to be whether to have red or white wine with your dinner!