The view of Mathare Valley slum in Kenya

The security debate: restricting one’s individual freedom?

John Tucker is an epidemiologist. Between June and December 2013, he was on a field assignment in Kenya, where he lived, for MSF. He was in Nairobi when the attack on the Westgate mall happened in Nairobi on September 21st, 2013. In his end of mission report, he exposes his opinion of some aspects of MSF security management in the Kenyan capital. In particular, he asks: how to balance the benefits of a lower exposure to risks and the issues raised by the restrictions to one's individual freedom.

Security guidelines

As a major, developed African hub with a robust expat community but also widespread criminality and the constant threat of terrorism, Nairobi is a complicated case in terms of security. The approach taken was to define a list of ~50 locations that are safe for ex-pat staff to visit. I understand that compared to the security restrictions in Syria, South Sudan, etc, these rules are relaxed, but compared to other area NGOs (including the other MSF sections), this approach is unnecessarily restrictive.

The Westgate attack that occurred during my tenure was a terrifying tragedy, but the truth of the matter is that the probability of such an event occurring at any given location and time is exceedingly small. The security restrictions put in place, however, are significant and make day-to-day life with MSF unpleasant. In my opinion, the harm of taking away so much personal freedom outweighs the benefit of protecting staff members from unlikely events.
As an example, expats are not currently allowed to go to movie theaters in Nairobi due to fear of a terrorist attack on crowded places. In Nairobi there are approximately 6 movie theaters, each with an average of 5 screens showing 3 movies per day. In one month, that means there are approximately 2700 screenings in Nairobi. If there were a terrorist attack on a movie theatre in Nairobi in the next month, a very unlikely assumption, an expat has a 1 in 2700 chance of being in the movie theater during an attack. Is it really worth sacrificing a person's right to go to the movies to prevent them from such a remote possibility? Shouldn't an individual have the right to make that decision himself? The same can be said for shopping malls, nightclubs, markets, the central business district, and many other restricted locales.
I would strongly urge the powers that be to revise the security protocol in Nairobi to a policy of informed freedom. Expats should be made fully aware of the risks, but allowed to make personal decisions without fear of losing their jobs. Keeping the current protocol in place will continue to have a negative effect on expat retention at MSF.

To cite this content :
John Tucker, “The security debate: restricting one’s individual freedom?”, 20 décembre 2013, URL :

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