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Economy

Kenya suspends CNN deal over terrorism slur

A video grab of the CNN broadcast that sparked anger among Kenyans. PHOTO | FILE
A video grab of the CNN broadcast that sparked anger among Kenyans. PHOTO | FILE 

Kenya has suspended a multimillion-shilling marketing communication deal with Cable News Network (CNN) in the latest sign of an escalating row with the American news channel over a recent terrorism slur.

The Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), a State agency that markets the country’s attractions, said the move was necessary to avoid a backlash from Kenyans angered by the “misrepresentation on the country’s security status”.

“Some narrative adverts were already running on CNN as we planned (the) launch of above-the-line TV campaigns with them but we suspended all of that,” said CEO Muriithi Ndegwa on Thursday. SEE VIDEO

CNN caused a storm after it showed a graphic just days to President Barack Obama’s July visit in which it described Kenya as a “terror hotbed”.

The remark was in reference to a spate of terrorist attacks that have rocked Kenya since 2013, climaxing on April 2 with the massacre of nearly 150 people at Garissa University College, most of them students.

Two guests invited on the CNN show to discuss security matters declared that Kenya, where about 500 people have been killed in terror attacks since 2012, was more dangerous than Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last year alone, Afghanistan saw about 8,000 civilians killed in fighting and terrorist attacks, while sectarian violence in Iraq claimed more than 15,000 lives.

The “terror hotbed” reference touched off a nationalistic fervour, with Kenyans taking to social media to mock or rebuke the American television network.

At the top echelons of power, President Uhuru Kenyatta told his American counterpart during the official opening of the sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit: “Kenya is a hotbed of vibrant culture, spectacular natural beauty, and infinite possibility. Let the world hear a simple message: the narrative of African despair and indignity is false — indeed, it was never true. Mr President and to all of you gathered here, today let that narrative change... When you go home and as you travel around the world, tell those whom you meet about what you have seen in Kenya.”

Under the deal previously made public by Tourism Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie, Kenya was to engage CNN to run a one-year campaign targeting the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Mr Ndegwa said at the launch of the 26th edition of the Maralal International Camel Derby in Nairobi that the Tourism ministry and other State agencies were in talks to find alternatives.

Tourism, a key source of foreign exchange, has been on a three-year decline, pulled down by a series of travel advisories that source markets have issued in response to terrorist attacks.

The tourism agency estimates that Sh5.2 billion is required to revive the sector, but it was not clear how much of that budget had been set aside for the CNN campaign.

“KTB will continue to work with the 47 counties for all to benefit from tourism and make Kenya a middle-income country by (the) end of 2016,” said Mr Ndegwa.

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