Back in 2014, for anyone who may have forgotten, Al-Shabaab, which had just killed 48 people in the coastal town of Mpeketoni, declared that Kenya was now a war zone.
It was a declaration that won international headlines and was part of the hammering of our tourism arrivals on the violence involved, seeing them slump by more than 20 percent in 2015, from their 2013 levels, to their lowest point in many years.
Those lows look like abundance now, at twice the level of tourism arrivals we achieved in 2020, once Covid hit. But they were particularly noteworthy, as we managed, last week, to shake off the onerous red-listing by the UK that had forced British travellers to book 11 days in a UK government hotel to get home at a ridiculously inflated cost of around Sh350,000.
For, even as some of us celebrated the new liberation for travellers to and from Kenya, some of our senators were calling for a war zone declaration, over a farm.
Now, I frankly admit to having lost the thread on the Laikipia West thinking at this point: as far as I understand it, and I could be wrong amongst many seemingly different reports, the security forces have substantially left the area, saying it’s cleared, unable to find 15,000 cattle and herders on the Laikipia Nature Conservancy.
Yet, they are also now digging a ditch to keep the same non-existent, illegal herders inside that farm. Which, at the same time, our senators want taken over, and want declared a war zone.
Frankly, bewildering. But I think it means our security forces and leaders are saying they cannot control these illegal cattle.
But a war zone? There is a word that springs to mind at this point, which is ‘custodians’. For our senators, and our government and all our politicians are the custodians of our nation and of its wellbeing. Our republic is placed in their hands, to care for and do right by.
So let me mention, just for a moment, the extreme gravity of what these senators are proposing over these Baringo County cattle taking the grazing away from the Laikipia County cattle that were grazing there before.
War zones, most especially in a country like Kenya that has been a beacon of peace in the region, make a big difference to every kind of international engagement.
If the government cannot control herders, and is declaring war zones, is it moving towards civil war? Or, even, already in a civil war? In which case, that will affect its credit rating straight off. So there goes the pricing on Eurobonds and any other capital market fund raising.
Indeed, becoming a country at war instead of a country at peace will affect the pricing and appetite for all borrowing across our private sector, from all international sources, as well as many foreign shareholdings on our stock exchange.
As the red list departs, it will affect tourism choices too. Will that Manchester couple, bringing their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren, plan a super holiday to Kenya at war, or choose instead Zanzibar not at war? Or South Africa not at war?
In fact, foreign tourists don’t get how far Laikipia is from Watamu. War is a war, and scary and dangerous. And its pain does not stop at the risk ratings of our debt and our holidays. Nairobi is regional, and for some corporates, African HQ. One of the reasons it has that status is precisely because of its long-term peace.
These corporates don’t just take three visits to Nairobi, Accra and Gaborone, and say, ‘yay, let’s operate from Nairobi’. They risk-assess, and they use models, which can be a bit mechanical. War puts you out of the running. Same for international events. The Olympics Committee isn’t hot on countries with ‘war zones’. Nor are embassy families.
So, before we bandy around all sorts of interesting principles like going to war or abandoning property laws and the title accorded by title deeds, maybe an assessment of costs and benefits would be order, to ensure we are always, all the time, not damaging Kenya for everyone.