The government’s opposition to the latest travel advisory issued against Kenya by the U.S. government is not absurd as some people think. Kenya’s protestation that travel advisories are sabotaging our economy by undermining the fragile yet crucial tourism industry is valid. Sure, it is common practise these days for developed countries to issue travel advisories but just how they go about issuing travel advisories is a matter that requires interrogation.
The troublesome fact about travel advisories is that they
have the net effect of instituting an unintended 'trade embargo' and we all
know the stigma associated with an embargo. Our tourism sector produces high
quality products and services that are renowned worldwide and when a travel
advisory is put in place, our foreign clients are scared into staying away or
visiting alternative destinations despite the fact that we have spent enormous
sums of money marketing our tourist products in the diaspora. Whereas they do
not expressly ban trade, they do however discourage trade by scaring clients
Travel advisories are therefore a barrier to trade and at
another level, they are part of the new protectionism. Security concerns are
global; they are not unique to Kenya. Since the September 11, UK has had a credible
terrorist attack plot about once a year and never once has the UK ever been slapped
with a travel advisory, or has it? General Jonathan Evans, the director of MI5 UK’s
spy agency, recently said that security officials bracing for an array of
threats ahead of the summer Olympics. Although UK’s threat level is a notch
below what it has been for much of the past decade, it is still at substantial.
The level means an attack is a strong possibility but all the travel
advisory-issuing countries have not put UK on the list.
This particular instance along with the many you know of, make
it obvious to everyone that travel advisories are issued arbitrarily and selectively.
Just like UK, the Kenyan government with its meagre resources is working hard
to ward off terrorist attacks and assassination plots against foreigners. One
can argue that the UK unlike Kenya is not an easy target but that does not
negate the fact that there exists a strong possibility of attacks in both
countries. It is not the ability to disrupt plots and to defend a country that
matters; it is the fact that a credible threat exists that gets a country
slapped with an advisory. Since a travel advisory has been issued against Kenya,
then the same should be issued against the UK especially in the run up to the
summer Olympics but that can never happen, or can it?
The selective and arbitrarily imposition of travel
advisories is therefore discriminatory and it can be argued that it is being
issued by the West in order to tame the tide of revenue inflows to third world
countries. It can also be argued that the reason for issuing these advisories
is twofold: the first is to stigmatize its subjects by tainting their image and
destroying their self-esteem. Second, they are meant to perpetuate the West’s
prejudice against third world countries so that at least in the long term,
future generations of the West will continue to harbour the same anachronistic
attitudes towards developing countries that previous generations have held. This
selective and arbitrarily imposition of travel advisories is nothing but new
protectionism even though it has the same old motivation.
Not only are the so-called advisories immoral and injurious,
they are also absurd. The logic underpinning them is fundamentally flawed. Sure,
it is now standard practise for Western countries to issue travel advisories as
part of their responsibility to their citizens. But let us examine this standard-government-duty
argument. Governments go have a legitimate duty to inform its public of conditions
abroad that may affect their safety and security especially if they are to
matter health and insurrections characterised by peculiar circumstances however
when they touch on crime and terrorism to be precise that is a different matter
altogether. Indeed, the interests (in the broadest definition of the term) of
travel advisory-issuing countries (mostly Western ones) are harder to defend
abroad and risk-assessments are inclined to be unsympathetic.
All the same, risk-assessments must be based on intelligence
and as long as the targeted country has a healthy diplomatic relation and is fully
cooperating in the elimination of the threat, then honestly, issuing a travel
advisory like it has been done in Kenya’s case is simply wrong. Given how deeply
offensive they are and the havoc they wreck on the economy, they certainly are
a disincentive for future cooperation.
It should not be hard at this point to see that travel
advisories are also immoral. Kenya is fighting a proxy war in Somalia. Sure, we
are engaged in self-defence but we were not the ultimate targets for al-Shabaab;
the U.S. and the West in general was. The al-Shabaab trouble has befallen us
simply for being friends with the U.S. How then can the U.S. turn around and
slap on us a travel advisory, how? Surely, isn’t that immoral of the U.S.?
Interestingly though, travel advisories do not seem to prevent
Americans and Westerns in general from travelling to Kenya something which also
renders them irrelevant. The other sure purpose they serve besides tainting developed
countries is fear mongering. I just find it is simply too easy to demonstrate
that at best, travel advisories are not fit for purpose. The fact of the matter
is travel advisories are absurd, offensive, injurious, and immoral and perhaps what
the Kenyan media should do is ignore them in