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We must all defend, protect our airspace

By The Standard | May 14th 2016 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

The Kenyan airspace has been safe as evidenced by the galaxy of internationally reputable airlines landing in and flying out of Kenyan airports. Only last year, the President of the United States of America safely and smoothly flew into the country. In the same year, the sovereign of the Vatican City State Pope Francis used the same airspace into and out of Kenya. That same airspace could soon be declared dangerous for foreign aircraft if a push by the United States of America is adopted. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has kicked off a process to include Kenyan airspace in a list of 12 countries considered prone to armed militarised conflict. In a report carried elsewhere in this newspaper, the US wants Kenya condemned into the Conflict Zone Information Repository (CZIR), to join countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen and South Sudan. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) defines conflict zones as airspace over areas where armed conflict is occurring or is likely to occur and there is a heightened state of military alert or tension.

Now, Kenya might have her own security challenges, but there is no heightened tension nor is there armed conflict taking place. It is therefore grossly unfair for the Deputy Counsellor at the US Embassy to invite Kenyan officials to participate in a process to declare Kenyan airspace unsafe. Coming at such a time when terror attacks have declined considerably over the last few months, the proposal is in bad taste and negates Kenyan and American efforts to combat terrorism. Terrorism is a global phenomenon facing many countries in the world; the US included. Recent terror attacks in France and Belgium that left scores dead and many traumatised, have shattered the myths of safe havens.

This calls for concerted efforts to tackle this problem and not isolationist policies that are likely to put some countries at huge disadvantage and expose more innocent people. It is not by isolation that problems are solved. No effort should be spared to safeguard and protect our airspace. If the US succeeds in pushing this agenda, Kenya will suffer a big blow. By classifying Kenya as a CZIR the recovering tourism sector will suffer hugely. Our economy will be greatly weakened because no country will allow their airlines to fly into or out of Kenya. The multi-billion shilling import and export business would inevitably die with a ban on flights in our airspace. Our vibrant horticulture industry will be crippled. All these will lead to mass job losses with far reaching spillover effects.

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has widely been accepted as a regional aviation hub, with many global airlines using the airport. Kenya Airways is a respected airline flying people and goods into nearly every corner of the world. With the classification of Kenya as a CZIR, Kenya Airways will plunge deeper into oblivion.

What informs the latest proposal to put the country at the same level with conflict ridden Syria and Afghanistan? What is it that the US knows about Kenya and is unwilling to share with the relevant authorities? There are niggling questions the US must answer before this proposal is even considered.

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