Many years ago, when one Barack Obama was elected US president, and Kenya’s parental authority went gaga and declared a national holiday, Kenyans were over the moon that the country’s fortunes had changed. Never mind that even a State-sanctioned contingent of idlers went all the way to the United States, just to watch his swearing in on TV.
The most euphoric lot of the Kenyan nation was the tourism gurus, that group of “professionals” which fall over themselves when an old Caucasian couple lands on Kenya’s shores to celebrate their 99th wedding anniversary far away from their children-and their cowardice of dogs.
And so, when Obama became president, Kenyans were told, repeatedly, by the tourism gurus no less, that the country was now in the spotlight, the limelight, flashlight, floodlight, greenlight and any other light, including twilight, and tourists will never visit anywhere else on earth.
They were going to cancel all their reservations for those other countries which sell more than just their wildlife and the grammatically incorrect sandy beaches, and come to Kenya, to see what? Kenya’s grammatically incorrect sandy beaches and wildlife of course because there is nothing else to see in Kenya.
Lest I forget, they were also supposed to come and see some cultural centres which were to be built in several sleepy villages which were associated with the Obama name. Kenya was to be the place. The tourism world was going to revolve around Kenya. The earth, the moon and the stars, were all going to have their axis of tourism in Kenya and all problems that have bedevilled Kenya’s tourism sector would be over. Forever.
That was the best time to be Kenyan. Con artists, fraudsters, liars and daylight robbers who are legion in Kenya, and who see tourists as fair game who have nothing else to do in their countries and have to be fleeced at every opportunity, were happy. It is not easy to tell whether their dreams materialised, but considering that by 2015 the country’s tourism gurus were still banking on Obama Magic to shore up tourist numbers, they must have fallen on really hard times.
And so it comes to pass that every year - or rather every day - Kenya’s tourism gurus always have an excuse, lame one I should add, why tourism numbers are not increasing at the same rate that they speak. They are always hoping that the following day, the next hour, the next minute, things will be better.
They are always hanging on to some straw, a weak one, that Kenya is going to be the epicentre of a tourism earthquake, a tsunami that will wash people off other countries and bring them to Kenya’s shores. Kenyan’s tourism gurus are in a constant of euphoria over tourism numbers, and from their numerous speeches, they are probably praying for a meteorite to fall in Kenya, so that the world can know about Kenya’s magical powers which can even attract meteorites and other bodies from the Milky Way.
Just the other day, they went gaga when the Tourism CS parachuted - or whatever it is that he did-from a plane and they could not stop tweeting how that was a boost to tourism! How this was going to boost tourism they never explained, but many people must have been asking themselves if tourists were going to troop to Kenya to see a plane, a parachute or a CS parachuting and landing safely?
Kenya’s Unique Selling Proposition from time immemorial has been wildlife and the beaches...and to ordinary Kenyans, tourism has been nothing but a foreign concept, and even tourist hotels and everything touristic is marketed, constructed and scripted, poorly, with the foreigner in mind.
Now that every piece of land is being grabbed and turned in to a concrete jungle and the animals’ habitat depleted, and the few animals killed in what seems to be a State-sanctioned orgy, what will make these tourists come to Kenya? Will they come to see buildings, or to get conned by ill-trained tour guides, and traders, and taxi drivers and hoteliers?
Ideally, wildlife seems to be old hat in Kenya’s tourism sphere. It is just not working and that is their habitat is being hived off and when a few lions take a walk to flex their limbs, people start cowering. Kenya’s tourism gurus need to realise that more tourists might just come over when the country is sold to the world as the International Hub of High Level Corruption!