Cablegate: Ambassador's Visit to the Kenyan Coast

DE RUEHNR #2575/01 1721003
P 211003Z JUN 07




E.O. 12058:N/A
SUBJECT: Ambassador's Visit to the Kenyan Coast


1.Summary: The Ambassador's visit to the north-central
Kenyan coastal area of Malindi and Kilifi revealed a
region buffeted by a host of problems - poor
infrastructure, tremendous poverty, narcotics and human
trafficking, and environmental degradation - amidst
growing tourism. Tourist-related tax revenues flow to
the central government and have not been plowed back into
the local economy. The indigenous coastal population
feels marginalized. The Muslim community in the area is
generally regarded as moderate and tolerant, and there is
good Muslim-Christian collaboration. Coastal security is
a focus of U.S. and Kenyan efforts, but much more remains
to be done. End summary.

2. During June 10-14, the Ambassador visited the north-
central coastal region of Malindi and Kilifi. This was
the Ambassador's fourth visit to the coast since arriving
at post nine months ago. The purposes were to:
intensify efforts to combat trafficking in persons (ref
A); emphasize the importance of conducting transparent
and credible elections; explore reports of increased
narcotics trafficking; conduct outreach to Muslim and
Christian groups; focus attention on coastal security
issues; and promote gender equity.

Tourism, Infrastructure, and Poverty

3. Tourism is the most important economic activity in the
area, as it is throughout the coast. Malindi generates
about 60 percent of the coast's tourist revenue. Luxury
resorts dot the coastline. Malindi has a large permanent
Italian community, which generates significant income for
the area through construction of villas and operation of
businesses. The increasing amount of sex tourism and
related trafficking is of great concern to local
authorities, the private sector, and non-governmental
groups (ref A). All realize that sex tourism - and the
related issue of narcotics trafficking - could drive away
legitimate tourism.

4. The deplorable state of the infrastructure, which
limits the potential for expanding tourism to world-class
proportions, was dramatically evident during the
Ambassador's drive to Malindi from Nairobi. While about
two-thirds of the road from Nairobi has been refurbished
by the Chinese and EU, the last third of the road, and
the road between Mombasa and Malindi, are in deplorable
condition. Local officials said that they receive almost
none of the tax revenue generated by tourism, which goes
to the central government.

5. Another important point of economic note is the harsh
reality that the local population does not benefit much
from either tourism or industry. Virtually all of the
tourist hotels are owned by foreign enterprises, Coastal
Arab and the dominant Kikuyu community of central Kenya
owns much of the land. This has led to many locals
inhabiting land as squatters, in defiance of Government
efforts to protect the "absentee landlords", who are
politically well connected.

6. One graphic example of marginalization of the local
population is evident in salt production. This important
activity in the Malindi area is controlled by Arab,
Indian, and Kikuyu interests. The intensive manual labor
work harvesting the salt from pits is done by a local
labor force that is paid about 3-4 dollars a day. The
powerful owners have managed to impede any formation of
labor unions. (A report of the Kenyan Human Rights
Commission in 2005 called attention to these abuses.)
Civil society and private sector leaders told the
Ambassador that Malindi and Kilifi are the most
impoverished areas of Kenya (this claim is also made by
leaders in far west Nyanza province and the often
forgotten northern half of Kenya). That poverty, they
pointed out, forces young girls to drop out of school and
engage in illicit sex with tourists as well as
encouraging early marriage, which is a tolerated local
custom. As a remedy, the community is increasingly
working together to promote education. In addition to
all these challenges, the region suffers from
environmental degradation which is eroding beaches.

7. Sadly, the rich history of the Malindi area is poorly
preserved. The museum houses a small collection of
artifacts. The pillar that Vasco da Gama built when he
landed in 1498 still survives, however, as does a small
rectangular thatched-roof church that he constructed.

NAIROBI 00002575 002 OF 004

The old town has not been preserved, though in some spots
homes are being rehabilitated in the traditional Swahili

Muslims and Christians

8. It is important to remember, when discussing the
coast, that the population is about evenly divided
between Muslims and Christians. Christian leaders noted
that, while this is true, Muslims tend to dominate the
society because they own most of the businesses and are
far wealthier than the Christian community. It's useful
to remember that the ten-mile wide coastal strip had at
one time been controlled by the Omani Sultanate until the
British gained effective control. In fact, at
independence, there was serious sentiment on the coast
that this strip, given its unique history and identity,
should have an autonomous status within Kenya. Also, the
British had declared the 10-mile strip royal land. (ref
B). The indigenous population of the coast complains
that their marginalization is due to secret deals between
the British and the Kikuyu leadership that gave huge
amounts of local land to that non-coastal tribe at the
time of independence.) Muslim influence is also felt
through their madrasa schools, which many children attend
because of the poor quality of public schools.

9. The District Commissioner of Malindi characterized the
Muslim community as relatively moderate and quiet with
respect to political issues. The Mayor of Malindi noted
that the Muslim community cooperates closely with the
police on anti-terrorism issues. He indicated that
radical foreign preachers sometimes appear in the
community, but are quickly marginalized by the local
Muslim leadership and the authorities. Christian
religious leaders tended to confirm this. They noted
that outside radical preachers, especially Pakistanis,
evangelize openly, but said that the national Supreme
Council of Muslims (Supkem) is working to control this.
Supkem now requires all outside preachers to be
authorized by them and by the Council of Imams. Outside
influence is also evident from the number of impressive
mosques often built with funding from Saudi Arabia and
other countries. The Mayor (himself a Christian) urged
that more U.S. military civic action programs be carried
out in the region, particularly in Muslim areas.
Christians comprise about 60 percent of the population in
the Malindi area. Civil society leaders confirmed to the
Ambassador that the Muslim community is tolerant and
inter-mingled with the Christian community, including
through inter-marriage.

10. A group of Christian religious leaders told the
Ambassador about the Coastal Inter-faith Council. The
Council, composed of Christian and Muslim leaders, has
been very active in helping resolve conflict situations.
They are also working to combat drug abuse and sex

11. The Ambassador visited a technical training institute
run by a Muslim community organization. The institute
provides vocational training to young men and women, both
Muslim and Christian. The U.S. has provided some
support. The institute also receives support from a
private U.S. group based in Nashville. The Ambassador
held a town hall meeting with the students.

12. The Ambassador held a frank one and a half hour
meeting with 20 Muslim leaders. The general view was
positive towards the U.S., with requests that the U.S. do
more to support educational and community development
projects, and to expand exchange programs. Notably, they
expressed interest in obtaining assistance from U.S.
military civic action teams. They welcomed news that the
U.S. hopes soon to open a consulate on the coast and
requested that a U.S. information center (American
Corners) be established in Malindi. Only one or two
interlocutors sounded negative notes through provocative
questions concerning Iraq and Middle East policy. The
Ambassador addressed these, and welcomed the frankness of
the dialogue. Some concerns were expressed that the U.S.
was orchestrating Kenyan anti-terror operations on the
coast in which various people had been detained,
allegedly illegally. The Ambassador made clear that the
U.S. is not orchestrating such actions, and emphasized
the U.S. commitment to ensuring respect for the rule of

Coastal Security

NAIROBI 00002575 003 OF 004

13. The progressive woman District Commissioner of
Malindi provided an impressive overview of issues facing
the region. We had recently sponsored her visit to the
U.S. to help advance our Coastal Security Initiative with
the Kenyan government. The coastal security efforts
focus on strengthening the Kenyans' ability to police
their coastline and borders given the threat posed by
terrorist activity stemming from Al Qaeda presence in
East Africa. Through a combination of ATA and military
assistance, we have provided patrol boats for the navy
and police, training for professionalization, and other
assistance. The District Commissioner noted that the
Office of President Kibaki is providing strong support
for the coastal security efforts, and participates in the
Coastal Security Working Group. The Mayor of Malindi
also demonstrated strong awareness of the priority that
needs to be given to security. He is promoting a civic
education campaign to increase public understanding of
the issue. The Mayor noted the dangerous spillover
effect from Somalia, pointing out that Malindi is barely
two hours from Somalia by dhow. He also cited the large
amount of illegal firearms entering Kenya by boat from
Somalia. The District Commissioner of Kilifi focused on
concerns about terrorism. He pointed out that the site
of the 2002 Kikambala bombings is only about 20 minutes
drive from Kilifi.

Narcotics Trafficking

14. All interlocutors cited increased narcotics
trafficking as a major problem. While all maintained
that those behind the trafficking remain shadowy, they
admitted that the spillover from narcotics trafficking
has in recent years created a major problem with drug
abuse. They noted that, despite assistance that has been
provided through the coastal security initiative,
security forces have little capacity to interdict small
boats that deliver drugs from mother ships (Malindi has
no commercial port). (A security plan for the port of
Mombasa has been drafted.) The Mayor of Malindi discussed
at length his concerns about narcotics trafficking. He
said that he has seen families of close friends torn
apart by drug abuse. While efforts to stop narcotics
trafficking have not been effective, he is encouraged by
the public response to the problem. There is a
burgeoning effort to educate young people about the evils
of drugs. Community elders have formed a group called
Malindians Against Drugs. The Mayor appealed for more
help to promote awareness and rehabilitation for addicts.
The Muslim community is particularly active against
narcotics trafficking. The Omari Project, a Muslim-led,
highly effective drug rehabilitation program on the
coast, receives USAID funding. The District Commissioner
of Kilifi also focused on the problem of narcotics

Politics and Gender Equity

15. Malindi is generally regarded as a pro-opposition
area. The Mayor of Malindi, elected to the town council
and chosen by them as mayor, was affiliated with the
governing NARC coalition but is now considered part of
the opposition. He recognized progress made by the
Kibaki administration against corruption and in support
of economic growth, but also lamented the lack of
constitutional reform. He emphasized that Kenya must
have a federal system in order to ensure that
marginalized areas like Malindi receive fair treatment.

16. Some interlocutors claimed that government resources
were used to influence the outcome of the recent by-
election in the area in favor of the pro-government
candidate (refs C & D). One Member of Parliament and two
civic leaders who met with the Ambassador - including the
subject of these allegations - discussed the campaign and
convincingly described broad support for the winner who
received more votes then the second and third place
candidates together. The MPs also discussed the
continuing problem of tribalism in this area of the
coast, noting that most of the local conflicts stem from
disputes over land ownership, business, and access to
grazing and water resources.

17. The Malindi District Commissioner commented that
President Kibaki appears to be following through on his
commitment to make at least one-third of all new
government hires women. She said she does not have any
problems, as a woman, with the Muslim community.

NAIROBI 00002575 004 OF 004

Peace Corps Programs

18. Several Peace Corps volunteers described to the
Ambassador the excellent work they are doing. One is
working with the Malindi handicrafts project in
successfully identifying markets in the U.S. Another
volunteer, a Muslim, is helping a dairy cooperative and
has taken the initiative to reach out to the Muslim
community. Her positive descriptions of the life of
Muslims in the U.S. have proved very enlightening for the
local community, she commented.


19. That local officials have a clear sense of the
problems they must address and seem determined to so do
reflects, in part, the Kibaki government's performance-
based civil service reform process (ref B). The resource
constraints are staggering, however, and impede effective
action. The government's focus on improving coastal
security is a bright spot, and U.S. assistance is
helping, but much more remains to be done. Doing so is
key to helping combat a range of problems: human
trafficking, narcotics trafficking, and insecurity with
respect to illegal entry of small arms and countering
terrorism. Muslims and Christians are united by a strong
desire to fight these scourges and determination to
overcome the historical marginalization of the area.
They appreciate U.S. engagement and are enthusiastically
open to more.

© Scoop Media

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