August 22, 2007 / 2:19 PM / 12 years ago

Tourism in Somalia? Not a crazy idea, says Kenya

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Hoping to open an embassy in chaotic Mogadishu, Kenya’s acting envoy to Somalia said on Wednesday the Horn of Africa country has all the potential to be a top tourist destination despite 16 years of violence.

Somali fishermen boats are seen half buried in the sand on the beach in Hafun, northeast of Somaila's Puntaland region in this file picture. Hoping to open an embassy in chaotic Mogadishu, Kenya's acting envoy to Somalia said on Wednesday the Horn of Africa country has all the potential to be a top tourist destination despite 16 years of violence. REUTERS/HO/IFRC/Lydia Mirembe

Ken Vitisia, who is in Mogadishu waiting to present his papers to President Abdullahi Yusuf, also urged other African nations to consider reviving diplomatic ties with Somalia and send their troops to help restore peace.

“This country is beautiful,” he said at his hotel rooftop in southern Mogadishu. “We believe Somalia has had a conflict for too long. It can be a good tourist destination. The buildings can be renovated if peace prevails.”

Somalia’s once architecturally beautiful coastal capital lies next to beaches and azure waters that prompt many visitors to remark on its tourism potential as they fly in. The country has continental Africa’s longest and least-policed coastline.

But since the 1991 fall of a military dictator plunged Somalia into anarchy, its beaches have, instead, seen militia in battlewagons racing over sand dunes on their way to war.

The east African country, which closed its embassy in Mogadishu in 1991, would be the second nation after Ethiopia to re-open its mission since the interim Somali government, backed by Ethiopian soldiers, seized Mogadishu from former Islamist rulers at the end of 2006.

Libya and Sudan had embassies operating in the city already.

Mogadishu remains one of the world’s most dangerous cities, with Islamist rebels and clan militia fighting a guerrilla war against government troops and their Ethiopian military allies.

“I do not expect my embassy to be barricaded. It will be open to all,” the Kenyan said.

“We have a lot of commercial contact between Somalia and Kenya. We want to open an embassy which can give visas.”

Vitisia said neighbouring Kenya was set to benefit once ties between the two countries were strengthened.

“We want to open up Nairobi as a transit point, as a hub for Somalis in the Diaspora. We want to talk about how to cooperate with Somalia in areas of education, health and construction. That is my mandate here,” he said.

He urged all warring parties to end their differences amicably in the ongoing peace talks and called on African countries to send troops to help restore stability.

“We believe we should be able to engage those that are not in the (reconciliation) congress now and be part of the government,” the envoy said of Somali government foes including Islamists leaders. “The Kenya government will get in touch with those who are prepared to renounce violence.”

“We have to appreciate that there has been an in-born insurgency going on that has no links to al Qaeda. All Somalis are not terrorists. They are some elements who take advantage of the situation,” Vitisia said.

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