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Kenya’s Lamu fears tourist exodus

03 October 2011, 13:57

Lamu - In Shela village, on Lamu island, opposite the isle where a handicapped Frenchwoman was kidnapped on Saturday, those who run the all-important tourist trade are demanding the Kenyan government beef up security.

Since the kidnapping of Marie Dedieu from Manda Island, Abdalla Fadhil, a local investor and the owner of the land on which the Frenchwoman had her house built, says Lamu's hotels have recorded about 300 cancellations.

An exodus of tourists would be a "disaster" for the community: the local economy is 90% dependent on tourism, he tells a press conference organised around local political and economic figures.

He insisted the kidnapping was an "isolated incident". It happened, he said, because no one was prepared.

In Shela "nothing of the sort ever happened", insisted Azhar Ali, deputy mayor of Lamu and a local councillor for the village.

"But we want to beef up security so that people feel safe in our village... We're asking the government to do more," he said.

He said the most important thing is to bring Marie Dedieu back safe and sound "rather than fighting over who is or is not doing his work".

But he noted the presence of a naval base on the outskirts of Shela and expressed his astonishment that no one had heard the gunshots the night of the attack.

Omar Mohamed, a former teacher who now runs a guesthouse is not so forgiving. He accuses the authorities of negligence and incompetence. He points out that there is more than one naval base in the area. They are dotted along the coast up towards Somalia, in the direction that Dedieu was taken in by her captors.

Serious measures

The kidnappers should have been spotted, he said.

"The whole way patrols are carried out has to be changed and more serious patrols are needed the whole length of the coast, he said.

"Unless they take some serious measures I'm afraid there'll be another incident," he warned.

Fisherman Athman Mohamed also called for "more security along the coast." He said that since last month's attack on two Britons to the north of Lamu he has not seen any patrol while he has been out at sea.

Fadhil for his part insists on the importance of beefing up security on the water and not onland for fear of frightening tourists away.

Shela is a 20-minute walk from Lamu town, which is a UN cultural heritage site. The village tends to attract well-healed tourists and is home to a number of holiday homes belonging to rich residents.

The operators are united in their resentment towards France and Britain for having beefed up existing travel advisories, advising against travel to Lamu and the surrounding area near Somalia.

"That will hurt us," Fadhil said.

Further along the sea front, boat captain Mohammed Abdulrahman Ahmed is waiting for his evening customers. One of the highlights of a trip to Lamu is to admire the sunset from Ahmed's boat.

"The tourists haven't left completely," Ahmed said. "But when they're on the boat they don't really feel like going on a cruise. They mainly talk about what happened."



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