Tackle poverty as part of strategy to attract more tourists

By: BITANGE NDEMO

Kenya’s South Coast offers one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Any tourist who has been there is certainly missing a lot. It still has some of the most beautiful coral reefs of any part of the ocean system. Clearly, it is any discerning tourist’s paradise.

Unfortunately, getting there is increasingly becoming a great challenge.

Getting there is a nightmare, whether through Ukunda Airport or Moi International Airport through the Likoni ferry. One wonders whether this utter neglect of what could be paradise is part of our tourist-attraction strategy.

Likoni, the gateway to the South Coast, is literary rotting. Even in poverty, we can create a semblance of paradise, but there is no evidence that we are attempting to do this. Poverty should not mean filth.

As we drove through garbage and shanties, I had many questions in my mind: Why are we so careless with our environment? Whose responsibility is it to think for us? Who will decide that we have had enough of filth? What is the role of governments?

EXPANDING DESOLATION

In virtually all cultures, when visitors are anticipated, an attempt is made to clean up the village. This is what Governor Kidero was trying to do when he planted the infamous “Kidero grass” around the time of President Obama’s visit to Kenya. Shouldn’t we be doing the same for the many visitors coming to Kenya?

As you drive further south, the desolation appears to be expanding. Diani, once a beautiful village, is degenerating into a sprawling, unplanned rot. Here, I ask my driver to stop. I ask a few residents if devolution has changed their lives. With a chuckle, an elderly-looking woman tells me residents had not seen their local leaders since they elected them. We are certain to see them in 2017, she adds. Perhaps, as in other counties, they have been busy traveling abroad to “benchmark”.

Under the cover of a tree two young men are deep asleep. Their heads are resting on an old tire. Slowly, they force themselves to wake up and listen in to our discussion. I ask them why they were sleeping so early. They narrate to me how they wake up early every morning to walk to Diani hoping to get a day job. By: the time they get here, they are tired but hoping to get something to do before they trek home in the evening.

It is a great irony that these are young men willing to work smack in the middle of a dirty neighborhood that needs cleaning, yet nobody cares about them enough to give them cleaning jobs.

‘PORNOGRAPHY’ OF POVERTY

Common sense dictates that the local government could hire these youth to clean the city, or at the minimum, require all the enterprises to clean up their front and back ends of their enterprises, which would amount to the same thing since even businesses would need to hire in order to maintain the desired standards of cleanliness.

These youths urgently need meaningful and sustainable jobs. Employing such youth reduces the risk of their recruitment into terror groups that brought tourism to our coastal region to its knees.

In order to give a good impression, we need a sustainable way of making our tourist hot spots squeaky clean and begin to change the narrative of Kenya as a tourist destination. Kenya needs to discard the tag of the place to visit when tourists want to see the so-called pornography of poverty, such as the infamous flying toilets of Kibera, and the scrawny urchins with distended bellies and flies in their noses.

There is no need of spending billions to promote the destination abroad if all its environment is not appealing.

Just a few minutes from Diani is one of the world’s largest deposits of rare earth minerals. Although the minerals are being exploited, there is no relationship between their exploitation and the lives of Kwale County residents.

LIMITED INFORMATION

The metals and alloys that contain them are used in many devices that people use every day such as computer memory chips, rechargeable batteries, DVDs, cell phones, magnets, catalytic converters, fluorescent lighting and much more.

Since the discovery of these minerals, not much has been heard about their exploitation and earnings. There is a need for open data on all extractives in the country if the citizens are to benefit from them.

There are also large deposits of titanium. According to Base Titanium, the company that is mining this mineral, construction at the Kwale Project was completed at the end of 2013 and the first bulk shipment of ilmenite departed from Mombasa in February 2014.

Regular shipping of three distinct product streams produced from the Kwale Project’s high-value, heavy-mineral assemblage has now been established. Going forward, it will produce 330,000 tonnes of ilmenite; 80,000 tonnes, or 14 per cent of the world’s rutile output; and 30,000 tonnes of zircon each year over the 13-year life of the mine.

Titanium is used for alloys, principally in the aerospace industry, for both airframes and engines. In this industry, lightweight strength and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures are important.

UNEXPLOITED WEALTH

The Indian Ocean is also full of unexploited wealth, which, if we adjusted our focus slightly, would eliminate the desperate cases of poverty in the land of plenty.

Between January and July every year, the multibillion-dollar tuna fish roams through our costal region seeking warm waters in which to spawn. Foreign vessels trawl through our continental shelf for the fish. These vessels were the early culprits of piracy in the Somali coast and indeed became the source of piracy in the region.

The point I am trying to make here is that we have sufficient resources to effectively deal with the poverty of our people as well as maintain our environment.

Proper planning would help us understand our priorities and deal with them accordingly, but we prefer chaos that opens opportunities for rent seeking to largely benefit a few individuals at the expense of the masses.

History tells us that such a strategy is never sustainable and it often leads to unnecessary revolts when we can avoid them in the first place.

DECENT HOUSING

With less than 100,000 households and a population of about 500,000, we could very easily provide decent housing and sustainable jobs for everybody as a greater strategy for attracting high-end tourism.

Indeed, if we succeed in Kwale, we would have the confidence to leverage existing resources to eventually provide decent housing to everybody and achieve the aspirations of our Constitution.

If we changed the development paradigm from creating tourist enclaves surrounded by masses of poor people to a wider view of encompassing the citizen, we may not even pay to promote Kenya as a tourist destination.

The international narrative will change for the better. There is a correlation between poverty levels and the number of tourists visiting a country. The more the country has dealt with poverty, the more the tourist visitors.

SMART CITIES

In 2013, close to 16 million tourists visited tiny Singapore compared with seven million who visited giant India with all her cultural diversity and thronging masses of poor people.

On the whole, tourists are not interested in seeing poverty or pricking their own conscience, guilt and sympathy. They want to enjoy themselves, not to weep out of sympathy.

How we manage our environment and people dictates the number of visitors we get. This calls for us to embrace the concept of smart cities. We must plan our cities while incorporating modern technologies and inculcate a culture of cleanliness at all times.

Our cities will begin to sell themselves. And as the Swahili aptly put it, kizuri chajiuza kibaya chajitembeza (good things sell themselves while bad ones have to advertise).

SOURCE: DAILY NATION