The murder yesterday of Mugabe Were, effectively the first political assassination of the post-election crisis in Kenya, takes Kenya’s internal situation to new levels of instability, intensity and violence. As the situation escalates, the risks to tourists, expatriate and visiting businessmen and their local employees all increase exponentially.

Let us clarify for a moment the driving concern on the ground: factional rioting that includes the murder of members of rival groups. This rioting has been variable, but with yesterday’s murder is likely to escalate significantly today. The rioting, if allowed to continue, will slowly atrophy the services of the cities and country, as people become too scared to go to work. Shops — and so access to food, water and communication (for tourists) — will slowly shut down. The police, thus far attempting to maintain some form of order, may become drawn into the situation — become participants rather than the keepers of order. The subsequent reduction in the active enforcement of law and order will lead to lawlessness, looting, rape and pillage. You can see how this cycle of violence builds on itself.

What can be done by those caught up in the situation? Well, first follow the government travel advisories, which have sensibly urged avoiding travel to Kenya. Unless it’s essential, and I do mean essential, it should be deferred. You only have one life to lose.

What if remaining in country is essential, which for some organisations it is — particularly in resource-rich Kenya.

  1. Have plans, and plan for potential effects, not causes. As obvious as it sounds, a proactive approach beats a reactive one, particularly in a crisis. As part of routine business continuity planning, that is as important at a remote station in Africa as in the offices of New York, there should be contingency plans written for every effect on the business. Effect is more important than causes because of a risk management academic term called ‘isomorphism’. Isomorphism tells us that any effect can be reached a multitude of ways, and one cannot predict all those ways. The New York Board of Trade had excellent contingency plans against critical failures of their Twin Towers facility; although the cause anticipated was an earthquake, the effect was the same, and so they recovered and were operating again quickly.
  2. There must be a communication plan. The communication plan is used both to provide regular updates around the community on the network, and to act as verification that every station on the network (each person or location) is still functioning and ok. There should be regular updates to the parent firm in the US, and the parent firm MUST be taking actions to inform loved ones that all is well. Unrest and strife saps the morale on the home front, and that lowering of morale, while it may not hurt the company now, will hurt it later when the loved one returns to their home, and pressure is applied on the basis that, “The company doesn’t care.” Great and important employees can be lost for the price of some daily telephone calls.
  3. Make sure everyone knows where the plans are, and how to execute them. It is pointless having one person tasked with planning and running contingency operations; Murphy’s Law dictates that will be the person who is injured, at home on leave or dislocated from the operational headquarters when something goes wrong. Contingency plans must be checklists, simply and easy to read, contained in plastic covered files so that the reader, be he/she the CEO or a newly arrived hire, can work down the list, tick the boxes as they go and make things happen. Each file should have clearly marked on it the effect it is for, and everyone must know where the files are.
  4. Take advice. Speak to your contemporaries who have experience of these operations and planning for them, or seek the assistance of professionals. There are a number of experts in the field, such as Control Risks Group, who have not only extensive but long term experience in the risks faced, and how they can be mitigated. Additionally, and most importantly, professionals such as CRG offer local expertise and management of the full spectrum of risks. (
  5. Have decision points. A gradual response to a gradually increasing threat is both appropriate and sensible. Don’t pull everyone out of country the first day a brick is thrown, but the first sign of unrest should be a clear indicator to start taking preparatory actions such as reverifying contact numbers, confirming who is in and out of country, being prepared to submit citizen lists to the embassy(-ies), etc. As the situation escalates, it may be necessary to evacuate staff. The triggers for this should be part of the contingency plans, which must be signed off beforehand by management, so that decisions are being made against the plan, not against the heat of the moment by people far removed from the situation, or those on the ground desperately hoping things get better tomorrow. A signed-off plan enables cold decision making, insured against armchair quarterbacking either at the time or in the future – if they didn’t mean for this plan to happen, they should not have signed the plan.
  6. Update the plans. Regular checks (certainly every 30 days) should be made that every telephone number and contact method is up to date, and that the contents of emergency stores, etc, have not gone off, are in good order, etc. The plans should be checked as remaining relevant.


Although the situation in Kenya is deteriorating, it may calm through political action. Nonetheless, the situation in Kenya should be carefully observed, as they will offer some clues about the direction matters make take in Pakistan in the days preceeding, and the aftermath of, the elections there on 8 February.