Life in Kenya is set to change drastically. Once all the hostages and gunmen inside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi are accounted for and the military officers back in their barracks, reality will start setting in – and the consequences of the bloodshed will be profound.
First, our way of life will have to change. Prior to this attack, security in public places was just a formality. Guards at shopping centres like Westgate only ever performed perfunctory checks on visitors. We will all have to be more vigilant and some of the freedoms we take for granted will likely be curtailed.
Then there is the effect on the economy. Around Westlands – one of the wealthiest areas of Nairobi – businesses are already counting their losses. It would be naïve to think that companies making investment decisions in Africa will not now be more cautious in contemplating the risks to their staff and their property in Kenya. Various countries will, if they have not already, issue travel advisories to their nationals warning of the risk of going to Kenya. This will have a negative effect on tourism, hitherto Kenya’s leading foreign exchange earner.
One would hope that other countries will stand in solidarity with Kenyans. But when people from those countries are booking their holidays, for the time being at least, the bloody scenes at Westgate will inevitably be at the front of their mind.
There will also inevitably be a profound effect on community relations in Kenya – between Christians and Muslims and especially with the large numbers of Kenyan Somalis living in the capital. Following smaller attacks in the past, some incensed Kenyans have targeted the Muslims with vengeance.
Kenyan leaders including President Uhuru Kenyatta, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Muslim leaders have sought to clarify that the attackers are not Muslims but criminals. That is the truth. It will, however, take more than that to convince some Kenyans.
I expect that security agencies will also launch “clean up” exercises in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, home to many Somalis. In view of such exercises in the past, some innocent Kenyan Muslims and Somalis could be victimised.
It is not all darkness though. Kenya just emerged from a highly divisive general election in March. President Kenyatta and the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga (who stood against him) do not see eye to eye. Their supporters hate each other.
But since the attack, the two leaders have jointly visited the injured in hospitals.
Ordinary Kenyans are also united in a way they have not been for a long time. Hospitals are reporting that their blood banks are full, with queues of people ready to donate still growing outside. This is what makes us Kenyans. I expect that we will emerge bruised but more united.
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