Wycliffe Muga: No Obama Magic to Boost Tourism

What would you say the new American President and the Kenyan Prime Minister have in common?

Well, quite apart from tracing their paternal lineage to the shores of Lake Victoria
— according to some, they are in fact "cousins" — I would say they are both learning that it's one thing to be an effective campaigner, and quite another to govern.

If you have been following American politics over the past few weeks since President Barack Obama's inauguration, you will know that the days when he could solve all his political problems by giving great speeches, or otherwise unleashing his legendary charisma on large crowds, are long over.

Most significantly, his attempts at "post-partisanship" — working closely with the rival Republican Party on matters of national importance — have actually proved to be a barrier to his single greatest priority of getting the US economy back on track.

And our own PM, Raila Odinga, is not having it any easier. If a motion of censure against Agriculture minister William Ruto passes, then it will appear to Ruto's supporters in the Rift Valley that the PM has deserted their man in his hour of need. And this is the sort of thing not easily forgotten when the next General Election comes around.

In the circumstances, what had seemed at one point to be a political masterstroke — the of ODM's so-called "Pentagon" — will suddenly appear to be a very short-sighted strategy indeed.

Ruto's elevation as one of the five leaders in the Pentagon raised his profile above that of other Rift Valley politicians, including some like the Industry minister Henry Kosgey, who were in Cabinet in the 1980s, when Ruto was a mere university student.

Now we have a situation in which Ruto's political fate is so closely tied up with Raila's. Ruto's fall is certain to be a devastating blow to the PM's future political ambitions.

Back to President Obama. I am amazed at the number of Kenyans who should know better, who nonetheless desperately anticipate an "Obama dividend".

What is usually said is that with a man whose father was an indigenous Kenyan now in the White House, the world in general and America in particular, will now take a beneficial interest in Kenya, and. this interest will translate into a massive upsurge in tourist arrivals.

I suspect that part of the reason for these expectations, is that when South Africa elected its first majority-rule government back in 1994, the country for the first time had visitors in the millions, and some referred to this as the "Mandela dividend".

What those who seek to draw a parallel between these two situations forget is that South African tourism did not rely solely on Mandela to get this sharp increase in tourism numbers.

Aware that apartheid, which had kept away many potential tourists, was on its last legs, South Africa invested heavily in a campaign to attract tourists.

Intensive and sustained "destination marketing" is key to increasing the number of tourists.

There is really no other way.

And this can be seen from those very enticing and colourful TV advertisements that appear on CNN over and over again, from the tourism authorities of Malaysia, India, Greece, Croatia, and so on.

Providing money for the Kenya Tourism Board to conduct such a campaign to sell Kenya as an exotic tourist destination is what will deliver results. Sitting back and waiting for a sudden flood of tourists, just because Obama got elected the US President, is not a tourism growth strategy.

And it might be important to note here that this board is one which has distinguished itself in its seriousness of intent over the recent scandal allegations of money improperly spent.

Unlike in many such scandals where the entire board of directors is often found to have been involved in shady deals, in this case it was the board itself which called in anti-corruption investigators, when evidence of wrongdoing by the management came to light.

And its not just tourism. In any of the economic sectors on which Kenya has built its hopes for prosperity, an empirical examination of the key factors that influence the outcomes we seek is far more realistic option than hoping for some Obama-inspired miracle which certainly will never happen.

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