The natural responses to the Westgate massacre are horror at the cruelty, outrage towards the perpetrators and empathy with victims and their families. As the death toll increases, many will feel another emotion: apprehension.
Another soft target has become the location for carnage; where might extremists strike next? How much will security ratchet up in peaceable communities, in a futile bid to “harden” day-to-day activities against terrorist attack?
To these fears, some people bring more immediate and practical anxieties. Many thousands of tourists are due to travel to Kenya in the next few months. And as tourism accounts for one-fifth of the nation’s economy, around eight million Kenyans rely upon earnings from Western visitors.
The Foreign Office is, as always, treading a tightrope between the paramount duty to protect British citizens and the risk of damaging an ally. Its advice to prospective visitors to Kenya is likely to stop well short of urging against “all but essential travel”. And that decision is probably right.
Early on Sunday morning, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs put out an alert to its citizens in Kenya. It listed some of the possible targets for another attack: “hotels, airports, shopping areas, markets, bars, nightclubs, restaurants and cafes, tourist resorts (including beach resorts and beaches), safari lodges, churches and other places of worship, commercial airlines and other places frequented by foreigners”. That does not leave the average holidaymaker with much of an agenda. Australians in Kenya are also warned to “Avoid public places for the next 24-48 hours”.
A couple of days? The danger – and doubtless one aim of this al-Shabab attack – is that many travellers will avoid public places in Kenya for an awful lot longer. After all, superb beaches and safari locations are available in African nations where British travellers have not been abducted and murdered, nor expatriates slaughtered. But if too many relatively wealthy Westerners turn their backs on this friendly, beautiful and entrancing East African country, the terrorists will claim another victory.