Anna Rosenberg, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa at FSG, is currently on a research trip to Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. Here are her latest insights:
Kenya – Security is a Concern
Kenya is an attractive place to do business – that’s the reason I am on the ground doing research. My conversations today with business leaders and ordinary Kenyans alike surprised me in the palpable, growing sense of insecurity they implied. Perhaps our talks were overshadowed by a recent Islamist terrorist attack that had young men storm a church in Likoni, near Mombasa, to open indiscriminate fire, killing six people.
Taking place six months after the Westgate Mall attacks in Nairobi that killed 64 people, the Likoni assault is only a reminder of the underlying tensions within Kenyan society. These tensions do not originate in religious divisions, but economic ones. While Nairobi is bustling with economic activity, the coastal areas are not. Youth unemployment among educated Kenyans is high, which fuels resentment and provides a fertile recruitment ground for radical causes.
Nairobi’s shopping mall, Westgate, is closed for reconstruction after a terrorist attack in September 2013
How is this fear impacting business?
I spoke today to the regional head of a company that sells spirits across East Africa. Although his business in Kenya is still growing, he stressed that it is performing worse than other East African markets as consumption activity is shifting to the home, away from public places. Consumers are also buying less alcohol because of negative religious connotations. His employees are scared, particularly when launching marketing events in Nairobi’s flashy Westernized hotels – a prime target for terrorists.
A seasoned Kenyan investor told me that his friends in the tourism industry near Mombasa are severely feeling the economic impact of insecurity. Every incident triggers a drop in prices for hotel rooms, causing dramatic losses in revenues, in turn leading to layoffs that contribute to unemployment. A vicious cycle.
To be clear, as I have heard and seen repeatedly today, Kenya’s business landscape is one of dynamic and fast-paced growth. Business targets typically exceed expectations. Investments in the power sector and nascent oil & gas industry keep rising. Yet for Kenya to remain an attractive hub for multinationals in the region, the government needs to ensure that economic growth creates attractive employment opportunities for the disgruntled youth.
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