Will Awkward Small-Talk Save the Logistics Industry?

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October 14, 2013

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Urban centers such as Nairobi are famous for the determination of their residents to mind their own business. From the passersby intent on minding their own business as someone receives a dose of ‘ngeta’, to you who lingers at their door “tying your laces” as you wait for your neighbor to leave before you, avoiding awkward small talk. The concept of interacting with each other beyond a perfunctory greeting is deeply ingrained in urban city dwellers, a system that the government is now dedicated to uprooting.

What we consider neighborly nosiness can be better termed as “community policing”, with one such initiative dubbed “Nyumba Kumi” causing a national stir from the first mention of it.

The core concept is fairly straightforward: residential areas are to be divided into groups of ten households, with people within each grouping being responsible for each other’s security,

Image Source: madamenoire.com

Image Source: madamenoire.com

and getting to know each other better in hopes of flushing out malicious individuals hiding in plain sight. While this practice has proven successful in reducing insecurity in Tanzania, this announcement conceals a much more sinister fact: ask yourself, ‘Why would such an initiative be needed?’

The rising rate of insecurity in Kenya is a sobering reality: the past 5 years have been peppered with heartbreaking incidents of terrorism on Kenyan soil, culminating in an unfathomable attack on 21st September this year that shocked the world. As we begin to take stock of our situation as a nation, the resounding message remains the need for improved security to prevent such tragedies from breaching our borders. As the government and private citizens circle the wagons, the effects of heightened security are being felt across the country, including within the supply chain management industry.

The first sector to feel the bite of insecurity is usually the tourism industry, one of Kenya’s key sources of income. With the Kenya Tourism Board predicting earnings of KES100 billion from the industry in 2013, any loss or drastic reduction in tourist activity could be catastrophic for the Kenyan economy and the logistics industry, which derives a sizable chunk of revenue from support functions such as delivery of food and supplies to resorts.

Insecurity hits directly at tourists’ need for self-preservation coupled with governments’ need to protect their own. In August this year, two British teenagers were assaulted; with the assailants throwing acid into their faces and upper bodies in Zanzibar. About a month before, a Catholic priest was similarly attacked in an incident suspected to be related to religion.

It is difficult to imagine anyone who has heard of these attacks voluntarily planning a vacation in Zanzibar, wishing to avoid tempting fate and heartbreaking injuries. Such incidents therefore reduce tourist traffic and consequently revenue earned in logistical support.

Supply chain management players dealing in imports also feel the effect of insecurity: increased border and port security, produce massive but necessary delays as authorities confirm that nothing out of order, such as illegal weapons, make their way into the country.

In severe cases of insecurity, government resources are diverted to essential peace-keeping functions, leaving limited resources for port and border clearance. Fast moving imported goods may then be lost to their owners in the resulting confusion. Such unregulated conditions also cultivate a culture of corruption, where costly bribes are needed to get goods cleared as needed.

Similarly, in areas with high rates of crime, it is quite possible for imported packages to simply be attacked by bandits and never be heard from again. Such cases, along with expansive reports of other insecurity manifestations, eventually reach global media, causing foreign investors to lose faith in the country and its economy. Importers then find it difficult to purchase goods from abroad as sellers have no confidence in getting payments from the countries, or worse, do not want to violate any trade embargoes in place against the country.

The same lack of foreign faith applies to exporters as well: few buyers outside a country crippled by insecurity would want to purchase goods produced in such an atmosphere, for fear that they would be defective or poorly crafted – a reflection of their damaged country of origin.

Logistics industry players may also simply have nothing to export as local industries have been crippled by high crime rates or internal conflict. Where supply cannot meet demand, there is not much that we in the logistics industry can do but try to cut our losses and find profit elsewhere.

In cases of severe insecurity, however, this is usually easier said than done. Insecurity is usually a symptom of an underlying issue in a country: when unemployment pushes our youth to stealing to eke out a living, we are quick to condemn the choice, forgetting that the youth could not find a job due to lack of entrepreneurial training or lack of flourishing companies and industries to absorb eager workers. In this case, the issue of low education standards, possible illiteracy and lack of economic growth to sustain companies, are immediately identifiable. These elements all come together to create the perfect storm that lands a 19 year old imprisoned for theft due to an ailing economy.

National security can therefore not be considered an amorphous concept: it is a legitimate concern for every citizen whose life is affected by stringent security measures, both you and all of us in the logistics industry included. With tensions running high and debates abounding on the efficacy and reach of government security plans, take care to do your part in ensuring the safety of Kenya and her citizens, one awkward chat with your neighbors at a time.


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