LAMU, Kenya – British High Commissioner and Kenya’s Administrative Police launched a high-speed patrol boat in a joint effort to buoy Lamu’s tanked tourist industry. The UK donated craft – a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) – will be based on Ndau island, an Administrative Police Marine Unit base, in the Lamu archipelago to help patrol waters near Somali border.
If the dry-land border is deemed porous, the waters are more so. Maritime piracy is only fraction of the problem. Kenya is now experiencing its own wave of “boat people” -Somalis reportedly spilling into Kenya waters to escape a war torn failed state. The identities of the Somalis is largely unknown, but may range from Al Shabaab operatives, pirates, garden variety thieves or refugees looking for relief, opportunity and soft targets in Kenya. Last month, authorities in Kiunga shot dead two aboard a boat trying to cross into Kenya that refused to stop when approached.
“I am delighted to hand over this high-speed patrol boat to Kenyan authorities, who are working hard to maintain security around Lamu,” said newly-appointed British High Commissioner, Dr. Christian Turner, at a press conference yesterday held rooftop at Lamu’s Sun Sail hotel.
The British government bought the boat from UK’s Hampshire Police for £ 40,000, using funds from Africa Conflict Pool Programme. Fully loaded with two new engines, the total amount for the boat cost £65,000 (USD $ 100, 668 or KES 8,434,000). UK gov plans to donate a second RIB boat to the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) based in Kiunga to patrol waters around Kenya and neighboring Somalia.
“We are determined to work in partnership against piracy and terrorism to make Lamu safer for everyone,” promised Turner,” including the large number of British tourists that visit Kenya every year to enjoy all that it has to offer.”
These reassurances come in the wake last year’s kidnapping on Kenya’s north coast of British tourist Judith Tebbutt (whose husband, David, was shot dead during an attack at a remote beach resort) and of Marie Dedieu, a disabled retired French journalist, kidnapped from Ras Kitau island and who died while held hostage in Somalia.
These abductions followed by those of foreign aid workers at Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee camp and subsequent grenade attacks in churches and other public areas incited Kenya Defense Forces to launch military incursions into Somalia.
Also present at the press conference and boat launch were Lamu District Commissioner, Stephen Ikua, Senior Administration Police Chief, K. Mbugua, Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Internal Security, Simeon Lesirima, who emphasized the need to manage Somalia’s “mass exodus” into Kenya.
The UK government lauded the Kenya authorities for their efforts in combating piracy and attacking terrorism and they are a key partner working on the threat from Somalia.
An early supporter of Kenya military’s Operation Linda Nchi, the UK sponsored the recent expansion of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) authorized by the UN in February for Kenya troops to do work AU troops are also doing. Further physical signs of UK support has been through providing KDF with a high-tech maritime Security surveillance equipment fixed to the bottom of one KWS airplane.
Plans are underway to provide Kenyan security forces with 10 more Land Rovers, 64 sets of night vision goggles, construction of a pier at Kiunga naval base near the Somalia border for 24-hour launch capability of naval and administration police boats, installation of cameras and equipment for surveillance in Kenya military aircraft and additional Kenya Wildlife Service and police service aircrafts.
UK gov has helped Kenya assemble a dream-team anti-terrorist unit and 40 sets of body armor.
The British Foreign Office modified travel restrictions to Lamu two months ago and at yesterday’s boat launch underscored need to further ease restrictions for British citizens to travel to Kenya.
“Magical Kenya” hosts more British citizens than any other African country, about 200,000 each year, and Turner resolves to make sure the number continues to rise.
“More visitors will in turn be good for Kenyan and British industry and jobs.”
The British government is one of Kenya’s biggest investors in bilateral trade estimated at KES130billion per year.
“I would like to see that doubled,” vowed Dr. Turner.
The meeting’s mantra was “There is no development or prosperity without security,” and the High Commissioner was not shy to stress that while tourism is vital to the health of the country’s economy, he takes the security of British citizens – as well as for Kenyans – “very,very seriously”.
Attendees at the meeting – mainly Lamu residents and tour operators – brought up need for security in advance of the development of Lamu’s future super port, a main component of the larger Lamu-port-Southern-Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport Corridor (LAPSSETT) infrastructure for export of crude oil.
Protection of the environment and land issues were grazed with promises of managed and sustainable growth and preventing the marginalization of farmers.
Lamu residents raised questions about the cost of maintaining the high-speed patrol boats and whether the boat will end up being used as a taxi to ferry people to the mainland hospital.
Ultimately, said Turner, “a stable and prosperous future for Kenya is for Kenyans to decide, not for British officials to come and tell you about. I am pleased to listen, but the time has long passed since the British government waves its fingers at Kenyans and tells them what to do.”
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