[BLOG] Why tourist are the darlings of Africa’s kleptocrats today
We have a new question for Africa watchers: If you are a rebel or bandit, is it riskier to kidnap (a) an aid worker, (b) a tourist, or (c) a “native”?
The answer is (b). Kidnapping tourists has become very dangerous business.
Aid workers seem to be fair game, because there is some unstated understanding that getting killed or kidnapped comes with their job.
If you are a national and you are killed by cross-border bandits, that is also an acceptable risk — it is the price you pay for citizenship or for being born in the “wrong” country.
In Nairobi, many people will tell you that if suspected Somali Al Shabaab militants had not attacked the exclusive tourist enclaves in Kiwayu and killed a British couple, and later struck Lamu and abducted a French woman from her beach house (she died inside Somalia shortly afterwards), Kenya would not have responded with a military attack.
In fact, Kenya had been planning its Somalia action for years, without or without the attacks on the coastal tourist resorts, but there is no denying that messing with tourists has become a more touchy business in Africa.
A few days ago, five European tourists were killed in Ethiopia’s northern Afar region. Two others were abducted. The armed gang also abducted an Ethiopian policeman and driver.
The Ethiopian government blamed rival Eritrea for the attacks, accusing it of “terrorist” activity, and putting its army on the two countries’ volatile border on alert.
By the end of last week, some observers were predicting that there would be a small shooting war over the issue.
Perhaps the turning point came in December 2007, when four French tourists were killed in Mauritania.
As a result, the famous Paris-Dakar Rally that was to start in January 2008, and had been run from Paris to the Senegalese capital Dakar since 1978, was cancelled. It was taken to South America and has never returned.
The difference in the response by African governments to kidnappings of foreign aid workers and tourists probably comes from the type of money associated with these groups. Aid money is far higher than tourist earnings.
However, it is either paid into state treasuries or managed by donors. Corrupt officials and politicians still get their hands on it, but it’s a lot of work.
However, now that African and other Third World kleptocrats cannot keep their money in the West (the Americans and Europeans could seize it on allegations it is funding terrorism), a lot of it is being invested at home.
Tourist resorts, hotels, air charter companies, most them aimed at tourists who have a little more money than the locals, are a popular investments for our crooked capitalists.
Disruptions of the tourism industry with killings and kidnappings, therefore, hit the local wealthy classes and their political allies harder these days because it means they will not sell rooms at their resorts, and will have no gamblers at their casino tables.
The aid workers, as the saying goes, milk local misery and state failure.
A small but growing powerful local elite, on the hand, milks the tourists. They are simply protecting the goose that lays their golden eggs.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media.
This article was originally posted on East Africa Business Communities