Terrorism: Is the Bilateral Value Proposition worth the Opportunity Cost for Kenya?
For the past ten years, terrorism is a subject I have had to contend with on a personal level. Whether it is meeting someone new, explaining a physical defect either from a direct inquiry or from personal insecurity I feel necessary to get past so that I can focus on other matters at hand. I have always avoided weighing in on a deeper or intellectual level. As it were, on 20th December 2010, I got caught up in an attack orchestrated by Al Shabaab — a jihadist fundamentalist group based in East Africa, primarily in Somalia and which has pledged allegiance to the militant Islamist organization Al-Qaeda. A group with spiraling terrorist hubs and cells across East Africa, and primarily Kenya.
Some of these things are (un) surprisingly unknown to the majority of folks in my community here in Midwest America where I moved a little while ago on a scholarly tour. As it happens, people here also avoid discussion on politics, religion and economic ramifications occasioned by actions by a given group or another — a tough place for a regular Kenyan, when our characteristic conversations, banter, and the interactive fabric is always about what’s happening, who said what and our affiliations or alienations. Civic education and political participation could do wonders here, and undo some of the blunders. I am purposing to delve into some of the very obvious, and the not so obvious terrorism effects in East Africa, and perhaps with an economic perspective bias. By no means is this exhaustive nor in detail. Perhaps in theme with the tag, commentary, experience, and opinion.
Understanding the impact of terrorism is integral. While it is easy to understand and examine the far more than direct costs such as loss of life, damaged infrastructure, it is imperative to review the indirect impact on the citizens. Such would be as basic as fear, anxiety, panic and related health aspects. A further review is important regarding the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Instability has long plagued countries in East Africa, scholars have not yet conducted conclusive studies measuring the cost of terrorism for countries such as Kenya for various reasons which include but are not limited to the frequency of terror attacks that it is considered the “norm”; the global institutions that conduct these studies being geographically distant; or the complexity of the various terror groups and masterminds in the region. The integrity of the various research attempts as well as the origin of the factors influencing terrorist penetration is also inconclusive.
Kenya has on record 10 major attacks reported from 1980 to date and a further 24 smaller listed incidents. These attacks have seen an extensive loss in human life, damage to private and public infrastructure. There are serious cultural and economic impacts as part of the damage. Like Europe and the Middle East that have seen major historical sites and artifacts damaged and stolen through terror attacks, Kenya has suffered extensively with decrease in Foreign Direct Investment, a shaky Nairobi Securities Exchange, a Tumbling Tourism Sector, Withdrawal of Trade and Industrial Investments as well as reallocation of resources for Growth Enhancing Investments to spending on security enhancement.
Terrorism significantly affects the Kenyan economy. Considering how integral Kenya is to the East African Community and the neighboring countries that are reliant on its infrastructure, human capital, and industrial investments, it is perhaps important that an assessment is established between the value proposition from its development and diplomatic partners against the economic and security impact that results by association. The West is rightfully concerned about the effect of terrorism on its assets and countries. It is also imperative that the East African (Kenyan) leadership evaluates its bilateral agreements with its western partners against the opportunity cost.
Part of the bilateral partnerships between the Us and Kenya include help to Kenya in terms of capacity building towards terror preparedness and combating already deep-rooted networks. The U.S. counter-terrorism methodology in Africa largely involves developmental aid in complex diplomacy and security regimes. With this aid, the Kenyan Government and Forces have increased their vigilance and combat on extremists, yet these endeavors have prompted an assortment of human rights violations while fueling tensions between the government and minority ethnic groups (Muslims). Social pressures are integral in the rise of terror gangs and affiliation to Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda. Economic issues, human rights violations, and Unemployment are factors that aren’t addressed that even with security help from bilateral partnerships such as US-Kenya, little and hardly any outcomes will be realized past the estrangement of minority groups (Muslims) and the strengthening of local security powers with more prominent military assets.
Just this past week, the United States carried out an attack that killed Iran’s Suleimani. While there are extensive reports all over the media regarding escalation and further actions from both countries, the only real aftermath I have observed so far is an attack on a US — Kenya Joint Base at Manda Bay, Lamu, Kenya. Significantly, this falls right into the bracket of the narrative between the two countries — attacking each other’s assets around the world — directly or via proxy. Well, most of the folks that will be caught up can’t even place the two countries on the map but their fate stands altered — in economics, security, and health and beyond — forever.