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Ideas & Debate

What 14 Riverside attack means for the country

Families wait for news of their loved ones at 14 Riverside Drive Complex
Families wait for news of their loved ones at 14 Riverside Drive Complex in Nairobi on January 16, 2019. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO 

On January 15, 2019, Kenya was the target of a terrorist attack by Al-Shabaab at 14 Riverside in Nairobi. Kenyans were deeply affected — 21 people were killed. We have lost valuable lives and Kenya seems truly targeted as a key African location for terrorist attacks that garner global attention.

To be clear, the country is routinely targeted by terrorists, particularly Al-Shabaab, and the local news often communicates when the country suffers casualties. Sadly, the part of international media only seem concerned if foreigners are killed.

The last time such a globally visible event occurred was the attack on Westgate Mall on September 21, 2013, in which 71 people died, where again, most were Kenyans, including children.

The economic and geopolitical implications of such highly visible terrorist attacks on Kenyan soil is important. After all, we will continue to exist in our geographical location and conduct military, social, political and economic activities in that context.

The reality, however, is that the world has changed since 2013. Both Europe and the US have suffered terrorist attacks and global geopolitical dynamics have changed.

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There are two key issues to unpack as we come to grips with the reality of living with terrorist attacks targeting the country. The first is the internal shift. The response of the government, particularly in terms of the security action, seemed quicker than was the case in Westgate. It seems security forces learnt from Westgate and did what they could to apply the learning to the Riverside attack. The response from the security forces was more sophisticated and saved many lives.

The second issue is travel advisories as they have real economic consequences in terms of both business and leisure tourism, which are major contributors to the Kenyan economy.

After the Westgate attack, the US gave a full travel advisory and the UK issued alerts to parts of Kenya; the EU, however, did not issue a travel advisory. This time the UK seems to indicate that it does not expect to advise its nationals do not visit Kenya. The EU also said that Nairobi is safe despite the attack and that the handling of the raid should offer EU nationals an assurance of safety when visiting the country.

The US has not issued a travel advisory but has urged vigilance. The response of the Chinese government to both attacks was a condemnation of the attacks with no travel advisories issued. In closing, the reality is that Kenyans are concerned that we will continue to be targets of terrorist attacks.

Negative travel advisories only exacerbate the impact of attacks by crippling key sectors of Kenya’s economy. The personal, social and economic consequences of being a target of terrorism are real for Kenyans.

It is hoped that global players continue to stand with Kenya and demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the effects of their military and economic diplomacy in particular.

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