Nairobi’s Westgate Mall was besieged between 21-24 September by Al Shabaab terrorists, leaving at least 70 people dead and many unanswered questions about the general level of security in Kenya, East Africa and the rest of the continent.
While international advisories continue to warn against travelling in border regions with Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia – as well as certain suburbs of Nairobi – life goes on in Kenya for the vast majority of citizens and visitors.
Al Shabaab: still a threat, but not a daily one
Some security analysts believe that Al Shabaab is evolving from a Somalia-based rebel group, with no connection to Al Qaida, into a regional threat with more established relations with international terrorists. Others perceive Al Shabaab as primarily a Somali phenomenon – albeit one that has also targeted countries participating in the African Union Mission to Somalia, such as Kenya and Uganda.
Meanwhile in Nairobi itself life is returning to normal. You’ll still see more security details than usual outside shopping malls, hotels and office buildings checking (to some extent or another) incoming cars and pedestrians. While these unarmed security teams most certainly do deter their fair share of bad guys, they offer little real protection against a group of fanatics with AK-47s who rush a building.
Although Al Shabaab continues to be a highly disruptive force in the barely-functioning state of Somalia, the most prevalent sentiment on the ground in East Africa is that we have no more reason to actively fear violence from Al Shabaab now than we did a few months ago. Yes, isolated terrorist cells will continue to make trouble in Kenya and beyond – just as they do in many other countries. But aside from staying locked up in our homes, there is not much that we as individuals can do to protect ourselves against these more or less random attacks.
The most predictable risks are the ones you should mitigate
The threats that we should spend energy worrying about are the ones that we can do something about – by thinking ahead.
Locals and travellers in Nairobi have more to fear from carjackings and muggings on the street than they do Islamic terrorism. Check out our next blog for a closer look at some of the main travel risks in Kenya – and what you can do to mitigate them.