April 1, 2015 / 5:51 PM / 5 years ago

Kenya asks diaspora to lure tourists to help battered industry

NAIROBI (Reuters) - President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday urged Kenyans abroad to help woo tourists by reassuring people the country was safe despite a wave of militant attacks, hitting back at travel advisories that have further harmed the lucrative sector.

Flowers blossom near the grounds of the Westgate shopping mall, which has been left deserted following last year's attack by gunmen, in Nairobi September 21, 2014. REUTERS/Noor Khamis/Files

Kenya’s tourism industry has been battered by the attacks by the Somali Islamist group al Shabaab, including a siege at Nairobi’s upmarket Westgate mall in late 2013 that left 67 dead and deadly attacks near the Somali border.

Speaking at the Kenya Diaspora Easter Investment Conference in the capital Nairobi, Kenyatta said Kenyans living abroad should act as “frontline diplomats” lobbying for the country’s safari parks and Indian Ocean beaches.

“The travel advisories being issued by our friends are not genuine,” Kenyatta said. “I have not heard of any travel advisory issued to those visiting Paris, which recently experienced a terror attack.”

Seventeen people were killed in Islamist attacks on a satirical magazine and a Jewish foodstore in Paris in January.

Kenya’s government has repeatedly criticized the travel warnings, saying they emboldened attackers and did not reflect its success in preventing attacks.

Last week, Australia warned its citizens traveling to Kenya that militants might be planning an attack in Nairobi. Britain, without mentioning any specific threats, has toughened its warning to say citizens should avoid most Indian Ocean resorts including the coast’s main airport at Mombasa.

Other Western countries, including the United States, issued advisories for citizens traveling to Kenya last year.

The investment conference also saw Kenyatta peppered with questions about efforts to rout out corruption, which critics say has blighted Kenya’s image, scared off investors and undermined its national security.

On Tuesday, Kenya’s anti-corruption watchdog released a report outlining allegations of graft involving 175 officials, including cabinet ministers, governors and members of parliament.

Kenyatta, who has promised to make the fight against graft a personal priority, has called on all of those named in the report to step aside pending the outcome of the investigation.

“What other better way for you to prove you are not guilty other than stepping aside?” Kenyatta told the conference.

Reporting by Edith Honan; Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Alison Williams

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