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Kenya’s new Tourism Minister sworn in

(eTN) - Mrs. Phyllis Kandie was sworn in yesterday as Kenya’s new Minister for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, combining the previously stand-alone ministry with Commerce and East African Affairs. There was wide speculation after the election results were announced, that the new portfolio combination would bundle tourism with natural resources and environment, as after all President Uhuru Kenyatta had to comply with the new constitution of Kenya and reduce the ministries of the previous government from 42 to a maximum of 22.

Having served as Chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) for a while in the past, Uhuru Kenyatta ruffled more than a few feathers when he opted to put tourism into a ministry also looking after the hugely important East African Affairs and Commerce, reducing the tourism portfolio to a department in spite of acknowledging in his inaugural address and subsequent speeches the importance of tourism for the country.

A very senior stakeholder, for obvious reasons unwilling to be quoted by name, had this to say: “We shall have to lobby for a change here. It is an unnecessary effort, however, because President Kenyatta should have known better, his advisors should have known better. You in Uganda realized that putting tourism with trade and industry in the past was a complete failure and Museveni realized and made tourism a single ministry again. In Tanzania it is Natural Resources and Tourism, again a sensible combination. Now, like under the last government, which was a balloon for job creation reasons, wildlife is held by another ministry, forests are held by another ministry, environment is held by another ministry, and yet they are all supposed to be part and parcel of tourism. It is a combination where tourism, instead of working unfettered, now has to compete over resources with Commerce and East African Affairs.

“The other issue is that the industry wanted to have Balala back who was the best tourism minister we ever had. He is now in charge of mining, again a strange choice considering his background from the coast where a lot of Kenya’s tourism activity is centered. Few will right now say this, but behind closed doors there is concern that in this case Kenyatta and Ruto got it wrong. How will this minister be able to concentrate on Kenya’s most important sector when she has to deal with East African Affairs where there are so many contentious and even explosive issues between member states? How will she give her undivided attention to tourism when she has to look after commerce also at the same time? Will she be able to get KTB the budget the industry has demanded for tourism promotion? You can see, there are many issues being discussed here right now, and it is all in the interest of propelling tourism to the top of the rankings again.”

Another issue mentioned was the Mrs. Kandie was the only one of the 16 candidates presented to the parliamentary vetting committee rejected by majority vote, making it necessary for the full parliament to jump to her defense and vote to accept her, leaving open questions that may have prompted the committee to give her the thumbs down - what they knew and what the public is still to learn. Added information from Nairobi, quoted from a committee member, the MP for Kigumo Hon. J. Kamau, who apparently was the single voice on the committee voting for Mrs. Kandie at the end of vetting said: “This woman worked for some of the biggest companies in the private sector. There is, therefore, no question as to her competence. The reason that she did not present herself very well before the committee is not reason enough for us to reject her,” opening the door even wider as to questions over the impression she made when appearing before the committee charged with vetting cabinet secretaries proposed by the president.

What is clear is that Mrs. Kandie, now that she is the substantive minister after being sworn in yesterday afternoon, will have to pull out all the stops to make an impression on the tourism industry’s stakeholders. In addition, she needs to charm her cabinet colleagues who hold affiliated portfolios like natural resources which oversees the wildlife sector, to work hand in hand with her and be supportive of her policies to succeed in giving the tourism sector the funding and the attention it requires to once again become Kenya’s locomotive for economic growth.

Added the source in closing: “She will have her in tray marked tourism full to the brim. Mwazo left a mess behind in tourism. The various new tourism parastatals need board appointments which [are] long overdue and [have] hampered the work those new bodies have to do. There is need for industry relations to be repaired after Mwazo’s failed fight with the KTB board and CEO last year and so many other things he bungled up. And that is the concern really, will she have all the time for tourism when East African Affairs will keep her busy, when Commerce will keep her busy? Good luck to her; we shall wait and see how the government’s promises to revive tourism will be turned into action.”

For now it is a warm welcome to Mrs. Phyllis Kandie as the crucial 100 first days are now underway, during which she can and must convince those with doubts that she can and will fulfill the high expectations tourism stakeholders have in seeing their own sector excel.