Recently, Kenya was once again hit by a terrorist attack where a group of armed men attacked the DusitD2 hotel and complex on January 15th this year, claiming the lives of 21 people. This is not the first or second time Kenya has experienced an attack at by the hands of the Al-Shabaab militants. In 2012, they also bombed the West Gate mall in Nairobi leaving over 70 people dead.
One may ask what is terrorism? Terrorism, according to Title 22 Chapter 38 U.S. Code § 2656f is defined as premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents. From this definition we can see that as Ugandans and East Africans at large, we’re facing a humongous problem that needs urgent solutions. It is imperative that we find lasting solutions but before we get to these, let us first look at the impact of terrorism in Uganda and East Africa.
First of all, we need to know that this kind of negative publicity, apart from the loss of the lives of young people that had a lot of potential in them, is causing these countries to continue losing billions of dollars in revenue from tourism. According to the World Bank, East Africa earned more than $3 billion from tourism alone last year, with the sector directly employing more than 200,000 people in Uganda alone.
In Uganda, tourism had the highest earnings last year, around $1.4billion to be exact, with Kenya earning $1.55 billion. An example of how bad publicity from such happenings affects the economy is from Mr. Amos Wekesa’s (CEO of Great Lakes Safaris) own publication last year after the riots in Kampala in support of the political activist, Bobi Wine. He said that the company lost around Ugshs 900million as people canceled their trips and bookings. This is just one company’s losses. How much we’re going to lose because of the DusitD2 incident can only be imagined.
Apart from the foreign currency that is lost, we have to look at the disruption of daily business in the East African countries. An example is the slow movement of transit vehicles at the border of Kenya and Uganda due to the heavy and tedious checking of each vehicle en route from Kenya into Uganda that started immediately after the DustitD2 bombing.
Investors too are scared away by such incidents because money always runs away from conflict to those areas that are safe. It is, after all, volatile. Since the early 2000s, the East Africa community (at least the original East Africa, that is, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania) has had a relatively peaceful environment that has seen many foreign investors flocking here and hence our economies have seen an upward rise for all these years. This will not remain to be the case if such impediments and orchestrated killings continue unabated and there are no suspects that are apprehended, tried and charged. It is sad that the two Kenyan men who were arrested on charges of the 2010 bombing in Uganda were released last year according to The Monitor and were to be deported. Our security organizations should show more agility in hunting down these criminals and ensuring that justice is served.
As it is, no one would like to do business in a war-prone area. Hence, even the locals themselves will not work or invest in the region and this will lead to further loss of revenue in form of taxes, not to say the number of jobs that will be lost. It should be noted that over 70% of Ugandans, for example, engage in subsistence farming according to the Ministry of Agriculture. This can only be solved by investment and investment can only be done in a peaceful atmosphere.
In my humble opinion, we should counter all this negative publicity that comes with all these atrocities with a lot of good publicity out in there in the world. Uganda, for example hired two PR firms which in the past year alone had seen to an increase of up to 50,000 more tourists visiting Uganda, according to the Ministry of Tourism statistics. Kenya, on the hand has over 10 PR firms, not to say that it has an estimated budget of over $700 million for advertising itself in other countries, Uganda doesn’t even have 10% of this, or put better, doesn’t accord its resources to this even though the difference in earnings was $15 million compared to Kenya in the last year. This goes to say, if Uganda put in as much into the promotion of tourism as Kenya does, the results would be even better than the $1.4billion we got last year.
Terrorism has become a global phenomenon that can’t be ignored and hence East Africa should devise better ways of tackling this. This is not to say that the respective governments, have not done anything, but more should be done!