It's been hard to bring myself to write anything much this week - there has been such a slew of bad news for Kenya. The only good news is that it's raining (though rain causing havoc on the roads in Mombasa I hear).
The Kenya shilling fell further, bottoming out at 107 to the dollar (so far) - new all time lows keep being recorded daily, in spite of various efforts to stabilize the local currency. We have an election coming up next year, but no one seems to be able to decide on the date. Politics is as chaotic as ever.
It was almost beyond belief to hear that two female Spanish aid workers were kidnapped yesterday from right inside Dadaab refugee camp where 400,000 Somali refugees are now living. Authorities believe that the hostages were whisked off deep into Somalia, their Kenyan driver was shot dead during the abduction. Last month a male Kenyan aid worker, a driver working for Care International, was also taken (Guardian newspaper).
As an outside observer and in no way party to any inside information, the really disturbing development is not just that the kidnappings have turned from sea to land, but the fact that after being kidnapped, many of the victims are not heard of since. No ransoms demanded, just nothing, silence. You can't even begin to imagine the plight of the victims who, after the trauma of abduction, are thrust deep into Somalia facing who knows what kind of hardships and depravity.
The Kenya police and government issue platitudes that Kenya/Somali borders are being secured and manhunts have been launched, but we know that the local police service is woefully ill equipped, borders are almost impossible to police or secure and who even knows how much political will is there to get these foreigners out?
The Dadaab incident came hot on the heels of the Kiwayu/Lamu midnight abductions of women from tourist destinations also near the Somali border. A 56 year old British woman, Judith Tebbutt, was taken from a barefoot luxury beach hotel Kiwayu, north of Lamu on Sept 11th, on the first night of their stay. Her husband was shot dead during the raid. Then two weeks later, French woman Marie Dedieu, age 66 and wheelchair bound, was taken hostage from her holiday home. Police attempts to intercept the kidnappers before they slipped away to Somalia, apparently resulted in two Kenyan navy/policemen drowning.
Understandably, these two incidents have seen Lamu tourism die a death for the foreseeable future. It's apparently a ghost town today (barring reporters).
What's frightening is that these days there's a real dearth of information once victims are kidnapped - I understand that this is necessary for the safety of the hostages, however, the rumour mill tells us that hostages are very often taken by one gang, then 'sold on' from gang to gang until someone is willing to stick their neck out and risk brokering the ransom deal. Thus the hostages are moved, location to location and there's a long time lag before any information is released. It would be heartening to think that there was any recourse for the kidnappers, that they at some point would face justice, but because Somalia is now a lawless black hole, the likelihood of this happening is depressingly slim.
I think that advising people in Kenya to steer clear of anywhere close to the Somali border where possible is sensible. Even though these are isolated incidents, the damage to Kenya tourism is inevitable.