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Former Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga says Kenya’s allies like the U.S. should lift travel advisories to help his country as it battles terrorists.
Tourism, a key industry for Kenya, has declined sharply since the September attack by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab on a high-end mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
“We have pleaded and appealed to our friends not to scare off their citizens from coming to Kenya, because then you’re hurting the victim, rather than the culprit,” Odinga told Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson. “We don’t think Kenya is less safe today than Israel or Egypt.”
At least 67 people died in the attack on the Westgate Mall, which lasted over three days. There are now investigations into both the effectiveness and behavior of Kenyan security forces.
Al-Shabab has targeted Kenya in retaliation for Kenyan troops fighting the group in its home base in Somalia.
Odinga said Kenya went to fight in Somalia because militants were already attacking Kenya.
“Al-Shabab is on the run, but as we know in Africa, a wounded buffalo is more dangerous than a whole one,” Odinga said.
Odinga says Kenya is doing well for itself, compared to other African countries, and has mineral and natural resources to offer to American and international companies.
“Kenya has made several strides, and Kenyans have said we really don’t need aid, we need more trade and investment in our country,” Odinga said. “We have removed a lot of impediments which have been there which had been scaring off investors.”
On whether or not he will run for office again, Odinga says he hasn’t made up his mind yet, hoping to let the current administration do its work without the specter of a campaign looming. He also says he is curious to see who else will want to run.
“I will also look if there are younger people who are keen and interested, to see if there is somebody I could support,” he said. “I have not retired, but yet I have not said that I’m going to run for the elections next time around.”
Odinga was visiting the U.S. and spoke at the African Presidential Center at Boston University.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW. Here in the U.S., we've heard a lot more about Kenya in the last few months than usual, first a fire at the international airport, then that terrorist attack at the high-end Westgate Mall last month. Sixty-seven people were killed in that attack. There are big questions about how Kenya's security forces handled it and about what it means for the fight against the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabab, which claimed responsibility.
Kenya is considered one of the most stable countries in Africa. Joining us in the studio is former Kenyan Prime Minister and two-time candidate for president Raila Odinga. Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.
RAILA ODINGA: Thank you, Jeremy, I'm happy to be here.
HOBSON: Well, let's start with the recent attack on the Westgate Mall. Do you think that the country should have been more prepared for something like that?
ODINGA: Certainly everybody now thinks that maybe if they had better preparation, this wouldn't have occurred. But if they intelligence information, which was available, was acted upon by the intelligence agencies, maybe things wouldn't have gotten this far. But it is of course a wakeup call to us as a nation that we need to be better prepared in the future.
HOBSON: Big picture, put this into context for us. How serious is the threat now from Al-Shabab, and is the Kenyan government winning or losing the fight?
ODINGA: I don't think we are losing the fight. I think Al-Shabab is seriously weakened as a result of our involvement in Somalia, particularly after we took over the key port of Kismayo. The Al-Shabab is on the run. But we know in Africa that a wounded buffalo is much more dangerous than a whole one. So in his desperation, he'll resort to desperate measures.
But I do believe that what we did was the right thing to go in Somalia, stabilize the country, and I think that as a matter of time, there is concerted effort by the international community, Al-Shabab definitely will be defeated.
HOBSON: Are there a lot of Kenyans saying that you should not have gone into Somalia?
ODINGA: Not really. Most Kenyans actually understand that it was to protect the country that we went into Somalia. It was after several of our towns had been attacked, our tourism industry was threatened. So it was what do you call an operation to protect the country, and we went there, and many Kenyans did support us at the time and even today we're sure that a majority of the Kenyans support our presence in Somalia.
HOBSON: When you put this attack, this recent attack, together with the recent fire at the airport, what kind of an impact has this had on tourism in Kenya, on exports out of Kenya? We know that Kenya is a major supplier of flowers around the world, for example.
ODINGA: Incidents of this nature, they definitely scare foreigners in the country. And this is not helped when some of these countries issue travel advisories for their citizens not to come to Kenya.
HOBSON: Have you seen a drop-off in tourists?
ODINGA: Yes, certainly the numbers of tourists have gone down. We have pleaded and appealed to our friends not to scare off their citizens from coming to Kenya because then you're hurting the victim rather than the culprit. We don't think Kenya is less safe today than Israel or Egypt or Jordan or some of these other countries in the Middle East. Yet there are not advisories being issued for people not to go to those countries.
So we would really like to appeal to our friends not to hurt our economy at this very critical time, as we make our contribution in the war against international terrorism.
HOBSON: Well, what is the future of the Kenyan economy, and what message are you bringing as you are here in the United States to people about why they should invest in Kenya?
ODINGA: Well, we're saying that Kenya has made several strides, and we as Kenyans have said that we really don't need aid. We need more trade and investment in our country. We've removed a lot of impediments, which had been there, which were scaring off investors. There are a lot of opportunities available to people in our country.
As you know that recently Kenya has discovered a lot of (unintelligible) minerals. We now have crude oil. We have gas. We've got NO, we've got coal, we've got manganese and so on.
HOBSON: And you just - there was just a big discovery of underground water.
ODINGA: Yes, actually we've discovered in an area which was a very remote area, the Turkana area, two underground lakes, which are - have got the capacity to supply the country for the next 50 years. So there is opportunity for irrigation on a farmed piece of land which has been considered an arid land.
And then there is of course that area, an area where there is very high speeds of wind. Vernazza, which is the highest speed of wind, is in the northern part of Kenya.
HOBSON: So you see it as a place for a potential wind farm.
ODINGA: Yes, a wind farm. And as you know, we talk about green. (Unintelligible). So there is a lot of potential (unintelligible).
HOBSON: And we know that China is very interested in investing in parts of Africa and that the U.S. has been criticized for not taking enough interest. Are you seeing that on the ground in Kenya? Is China more present than the United States?
ODINGA: (Unintelligible), not true. China is in Africa, areas of raw materials. China of course (unintelligible). In exchange, it is helping African countries to develop their infrastructure: roads, power generation plans, irrigation and so on. But U.S. is also in Africa in a very big way, in the areas of education, health, agriculture. I think that the U.S. presence in Africa cannot be underrated, and I think they're still a lot of opportunity for the U.S. companies, the big U.S. corporations.
They're already there. They've been there historical for all these years, and I mean, they have opportunity to get more engaged on the continent.
HOBSON: Do you plan to run again?
ODINGA: I've not made up my mind on the issue of running. There's a lot of speculation because my supporters want me to run, but I've not made up my mind, and I'm saying that is too much time. It's over four years. I don't want to put the country in a campaign mood. I want to give the government of the day a chance to deliver on their promise to the people of Kenya.
HOBSON: Because, you know, here in this country, campaign mode pretty much starts the day after the election.
ODINGA: I know that much. Somebody like me who has been there for all these years, I don't need to any campaign early. I will also look at if there are younger people who are keen and interested, to see if there is somebody I could support. Those are all possibilities. So I have not retired, but yet I have not said that I'm going to run for the elections next time around. I will cross that hurdle when I get there.
HOBSON: Raila Odinga is the former prime minister of Kenya. Mr. Odinga, thank you so much for coming in.
ODINGA: Thank you, thank you very much.
HOBSON: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.