- The recently announced new air connections between the United States and Nairobi (Kenya) and Monrovia (Liberia) have been blocked by the US Department for Homeland Security, citing security concerns. Kenyan and Liberian authorities see their tourism aspirations frustrated.
Only recently, the world's biggest airline Delta Air Lines had announced a great Africa expansion programme, for the first time offering direct flights connecting the US with seven African countries. Plans for the new routes to Monrovia and Nairobi were concretising, with Delta announcing "special fares" to make the routes attractive for travellers.
But these plans, strongly welcomed by Liberian and Kenyan authorities, have been crushed by the US government. The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which belongs to the Department of Homeland Security, so far has blocked two of Delta's planned flights - Monrovia and Nairobi - while approving the route to the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
The TSA quoted security concerns for its reluctance to approve the two routes. In a statement, TSA referred to "a credible threat to civil aviation in East Africa" and general airport security problems in Liberia. "TSA is currently denying air service by Delta to Nairobi and Monrovia until security standards are met or security threat assessments change," the statement said.
For the Monrovia connection, a medium-term solution was being sought as the problems pinpointed by the TSA were limited to the Liberian airport's security. Only recently, the TSA and the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority announced a joint plan to enhance aviation security in Liberia. On realising this aviation security project, Liberia can hope of a future approval by the TSA for direct flight connections with the US.
For Kenya, the TSA decision is graver, as it points to general security problems in the entire East African region, generally interpreted as the terrorism threat experienced in the region. Kenya has been hit by several terrorist attacks during the last decade and instability in neighbouring Somalia is seen to represent a further threat to regional safety.
"TSA, along with key partners within the US government, assesses a credible threat to civil aviation in East Africa," the authority's release explained. "At this time, the current threat is too significant to permit these flights," it added.
In Kenya, the announcement by the TSA has caused outrage. Government noted it had complied with all the additional security measures requested by Delta and added that the large Nairobi airport is served by more than a dozen international carriers from different regions of the world, including many European.
Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula said he was shocked by the decision. "We received an email on the flight cancellation. This is unfriendly and unacceptable," he told the press in Nairobi.
For the boost in US tourist arrivals expected by both Monrovia and Nairobi authorities, the decision comes as a great disappointment. US travellers will have to continue to reach the countries via Europe or stopovers in Dakar or Johannesburg.
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