US ‘truly regrets’ impact of Kenya travel advisories, says Linda Thomas-Greenfield
The State Department’s top Africa official has defended the US warning on travel to Kenya but added that “any impact this has had, we truly regret.”
The comments by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Wednesday came two days after The New York Times quoted an unnamed US official in Nairobi as saying of the travel warning: “Our policy doesn’t make much sense.”
The most recent warning was posted eight months ago partly in response to a spate of terror attacks in Lamu and Mombasa that killed scores of civilians.
The region’s tourism industry was subsequently hit by crippling losses, with some 20,000 workers laid off.
The anonymous US embassy official suggested in The Times story that “the weakening of the coastal economy is aggravating the very problem we were trying to combat.”
The Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman explained: “By contributing to the collapse of the coastal tourism industry, the travel warnings may simply be increasing the joblessness, idleness, poverty, drug use and overall desperation — all well-known kindling for terrorist activity — in an already depressed slice of Kenya.”
“Many Kenyans contend — and even some diplomats say — these warnings could become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Mr Gettleman wrote.
Assistant Secretary of State Thomas-Greenfield rejected that view in her remarks on Wednesday, telling reporters, “I categorically state that our travel advisories are not contributing to people’s participation in terrorism.”
She said the US government is acting on its legal obligations in warning its citizens of dangers they may face in visiting certain countries.
Kenya is not being singled out, Ms Thomas-Greenfield, added, noting that the US has issued warnings and advisories regarding travel to many countries around the world.
“The solution is security,” she declared.
The US is working with Kenya’s government to counter the threat of terrorism, the assistant secretary said.
The objective must be to ensure that Americans and citizens of other countries feel safe when they travel abroad, she added.
The June 19, 2014, State Department travel warning on Kenya notes that the US embassy in Nairobi has “instituted restrictions on US government personnel travel to all coastal counties.”
The Times’ February 23 story, which carries a Mombasa dateline, notes that other Western nations “have formulated more nuanced travel warnings.”
In contrast to the US, postings by the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Sweden are “highlighting certain hot spots without drawing a giant red X across Kenya’s entire coast, which is about 300 miles long and home to millions of people,” Mr Gettleman wrote.
The anonymous US official observed in The Times report that “there are neighborhoods in Washington — Anacostia, for example — that are way more dangerous than Nyali or Diani.”