In Summary
  • The Westgate tragedy has the potential to destroy the whole financial model. The ramifications may be felt in the broader commercial sector of the economy.
  • In Uganda, private security guards carry arms. Our private guards are ill-equipped to deal with the scale of violence we witnessed at Westgate on Saturday.

I have tried to reach Mr Alex Tachenberg, the top man at Sony Holdings Ltd since Monday without success.

As we all know, Sony Holdings Ltd are the developers and owners of the Westgate Mall. I wanted to get first-hand insight into the damage the Saturday terrorist attack has done to business.

Developing a facility as massive as Westgate Mall and negotiating its financing is no easy task. This is especially so in our context where finding cheap and long-term capital to fund such a large property development project is not easy.

In countries like South Africa, the big malls and large property development projects are mainly funded by pension funds. In Kenya, most of the projects are developed with short-term money.

The typical financier will demand to see signed long-term leases with several anchor tenants and big brands before committing to give you the money.

The Westgate tragedy has the potential to destroy the whole financial model. The ramifications may be felt in the broader commercial sector of the economy.

The shopping mall phenomenon in Kenya exemplifies the explosion of a consumer culture within Kenya’s burgeoning middle class. The attractiveness of the shopping mall as a business proposition to property developers is under stress test.

When Westgate reopens as it eventually will, I will not hesitate to go there for a cup of tea. If we keep away from shopping malls out of fear of terrorists, we shall have played into their hands by unwittingly giving meaning and purpose to their activities.

The organiser of the Safari Sevens rugby carnival, who chose to continue with the tourney, did the right thing.

What must be done to improve the security of malls and other public facilities? I can’t claim to have the answers as I am unfamiliar with security matters.

But I have my two cents worth. In future, we should introduce a law requiring that all developers of public buildings such as malls must deposit all architectural designs with security agencies, preferably in soft copy.

It does not make sense for security agents to start running around looking for the owners of buildings to tell them where the toilets, corridors, and offices with bullet-proof glasses are located in a building long after it has been attacked by terrorists.

Secondly, let’s debate whether we should allow private security firms to keep arms.

In Uganda, private security guards carry arms. Our private guards are ill-equipped to deal with the scale of violence we witnessed at Westgate on Saturday.

As we evaluate what happened at Westgate, we must also start addressing and debating the big picture issues.

How did we end up right in the middle of a global clash between two civilisations — Islam and Christianity? Is prevention of terrorism high enough in the agenda of Kenya’s key foreign policy objectives?

Are we at a point where we should now insist that we will not maintain diplomatic relations or allow immigration of persons into Kenya of people from countries suspected to harbour terrorists?

We must debate these issues. The Westgate affair left me wondering what it is that turns a human being into a nihilist. As George W. Bush would put it, why do they hate Kenyans so much? That somebody can walk into a restaurant and start spraying bullets at other human beings is beyond comprehension.

During my days at university, we learnt about the Irish Republican Army and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. But the difference was that they used terror as a tactical means to achieve strategic ends.

Often, they would take hostages and negotiate demands. And, they cared about the minds and hearts of the constituencies and communities they were fighting for.

The Westgate type is a cold-blooded nihilist. As they engaged in wanton killing and aimless violence, the terrorists invoked the name of Islam and asked their victims to recite the Qur’an.

Clearly, their main aim was to cause Christians, Muslims and Hindu citizens of this country to look at each other with suspicion.

If they cared about Islam, why is it that the Muslim Cemetery in Kariokor is right now among the busiest in terms of burying victims of Westgate?

As Bill Durudie puts it, Islam is the motif — not the motive of today’s terrorists. We must not allow them to divide us.

jkisero@ke.nationmedia.com