Barely a day after Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that the security forces were in control of the Westgate Mall and that the four-day siege – which resulted in over 65 fatalities and 240 injuries– was over, a loud explosion rocked Wajir town in the north eastern region.
According to the Daily Nation, Kenya’s Interior Ministry confirmed that one person died and four suffered injuries from the incident.
Sustained insecurity and terrorist attacks carried out in Kenya could be “slits on the wrists” of East Africa’s economic giant, according to Nairobi-based analysts.
“If it is a one-off incident then it should reflect as a small bump on the growth path, but should there be a series of similar attacks then we could soon be talking about the great promise in the Kenyan economy that never materialized,” Aly-Khan Satchu, an independent analyst, told the BBC in an interview.
“There has been a lot of optimism about Kenya’s economic outlook but the latest turn of events might put a tiny, but visible smudge on that. Kenya hopes that the recent Westgate attack is an isolated case and has not heard the al-Qaeda linked terror group al-Shabaab claiming responsibility for the Wajir explosion,” Nicholas Kitonyi told AFK Insider via phone interview.
Kitonyi is a Nairobi-based independent investment analyst and financial writer at Seeking Alpha.
“Kenyans are already asking too many questions. If such attacks become a norm, foreign investors will not associate the risk with that of investing deep at the frontier. Once that association is made, that will be a ‘slit on Kenya’s wrists’ economically,” he said.
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In October 2011, Kenya sent its defense forces into Somalia to neutralize the Islamist al-Shabaab militia that posed a threat to security and tranquility in the Horn region.
According to a twitter handle purportedly managed by the militant group, the Westgate Mall attack was a response to Kenya’s military presence in Somalia.
“If they don’t withdraw, attacks like this will become common in Kenya. It is possible if they don’t withdraw attacks like this will happen in Kenyan cities and towns every day,” said Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab, al-Shabab military operations spokesman, in an interview with Aljazeera.
Since the terror attack, business has been slow in Nairobi and particularly Westlands where the Westgate Mall is located.
“It will take some time before people forget about the mall tragedy. Traffic has been very slow for businesses here (in Westlands) and most employees are unproductive. They are always on their cell phones or laptops trying to get updates on the situation on the ground,” Andrew Kibuswo, CEO of Liontech, an IT firm located in Westlands told AFK Insider.
In 2006, the Rand Corporation carried out an analysis that cautioned, “in terms of their potential role as terrorist targets, shopping centers present numerous challenges for security.” The report indicated that more than 60 terror attacks had been carried out in shopping centers across 21 countries since 1998.
Actis, a U.K.-based private equity firm, is building the Garden City Mall, a $170-million investment off the Chinese-built Nairobi-Thika super highway. It will be East Africa’s largest shopping mall.
“I’ve interacted with various people who now claim that they would rather do their shopping from small retail outlets than at malls. Perhaps the elite will resort to shopping online from the comfort of their homes. Nairobi residents are evidently exercising caution and so is the world,” said Kibuswo.
Random bag searches are being considered at Britain shopping centers and malls which allow unimpeded access to the public, according to The Times UK.
Kibuswo added that it would be “a shame and a terrible loss” should the Garden City Mall lack tenants after completion due to terror threats, but concluded that “there are very minimal chances of that happening considering its strategic location.”
Government officials are however upbeat that the mall attack and the fire which broke out at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi will not affect the economy significantly.
“Tourism’s share of the GDP, though increasing, is still quite small. It is agriculture and manufacturing that determine the plight of our economy,” Business Daily Africa wrote quoting Kamau Thugge, economic secretary at the Ministry of Finance.
Analyst Kitonyi, however, has a different view.
“Although travel advisories have not been issued as a result of the attack, it has received international media attention for days. Potential tourists might be inclined to skip Kenya for another destination for fear of sustained attacks,” he said.
“Kenya’s economy is expected to expand at the rate of 5.6 percent this year. That factors in tourism revenue. If tourist numbers drop, likely chances are that Kenya will miss the mark.”