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Kenyan security forces search for gunmen at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013. A group of armed men attacked the upscale shopping mall in Nairobi on Saturday, killing at least 59 people and wounding at least 175. Since the assault, Canadian businesses operating in Africa are on heightened alert, and are likely to step up their security efforts. At the same time, business leaders say they can’t allow the threat of terrorism to impede their pursuit of the many opportunities Africa presents.TYLER HICKS/The New York Times

Keith Hill's home in Nairobi is only three kilometres from the terrorist attack at a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, but the energy executive prefers to talk about Africa as a place of opportunity.

After the attack, the chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Africa Oil Corp. tightened security measures for his employees in Kenya's countryside. Despite the tragedy, Mr. Hill said it's important to get on with business. Company officials are keen to continue oil exploration and prepare a development plan for discoveries.

Africa Oil's field operations in Kenya are running smoothly, he said, adding that he is staying in touch with law authorities to ensure calm. "I wouldn't expect people in my company to work here if I wasn't willing to bring my own family here," Mr. Hill said in an interview Monday from Nairobi. "My relatives all sent me e-mails, and I told them all that I'm fine."

Since the assault, Canadian businesses operating in Africa are on heightened alert, and are likely to step up their security efforts. At the same time, business leaders say they can't allow the threat of terrorism to impede their pursuit of the many opportunities Africa presents.

Mr. Hill, who lives in Nairobi with his wife and 20-year-old daughter, landed in the city on Saturday after a business trip, not long after gunmen launched their attack at the Westgate shopping mall. "I go there fairly regularly, as does my family," he said. From their neighbourhood, residents reported hearing gunfire and explosions in the distance.

Mr. Hill has worked in 30 African countries since 1989, including the past seven years at Africa Oil.

The company has an office in Nairobi, but most its operations are in the countryside. It also has crude oil exploration assets in Ethiopia and the Puntland region of Somalia.

"Our biggest security measure is actually engaging with the local communities, and having the local communities wanting us to be there," he said. "The best security you can have is by closely interacting with local communities and having them see the benefits of us being there. As long as we have the social licence to operate, we generally don't have security issues in any the African countries where we operate."

Mr. Hill said that while he takes security and safety seriously, terrorism knows no borders. "These types of terrorist attacks could happen anywhere in the world. The United States is not immune. The United Kingdom is not immune. In our opinion, the best thing to do is to keep moving forward," he said.

There are vast differences between countries such as Kenya, which has a history of terrorism, and other countries in Africa like Ghana with more stable operating environments, said Tony Aubynn, chief executive of the Ghana Chamber of Mines, an industry association in Africa's second-largest gold producer.

"I would not advise people who are trying to come [to do business in Africa] to be overly concerned about what's happening in Kenya or elsewhere in Algeria," Mr. Aubynn said, referring to the In Amenas gas plant attack in North Africa. "These things are not the order of the day. These are exceptional situations and they should not be seen as things that would be happening regularly in countries in the region."

Kinross Gold Corp. emphasized that its West African operations in Ghana and Mauritania are on the other side of the continent from the attack that took place in Kenya.

"That said, wherever we operate, we maintain rigorous security standards and take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of all personnel," a Kinross spokesman said Monday.

Anirudh Gautama, a Nairobi-based consultant for East and Southern Africa with Ottawa-based infrastructure consultancy CPCS Transcom Ltd., said it is difficult to gauge how Canadian mining and energy firms in the region will react, given the nature of the attack in Kenya. Unlike in Nigeria, where militants have targeted oil and gas companies operating in the troubled Niger Delta, Mr. Gautama noted that the Nairobi attack seemed to be a response to the inroads Kenya's military has made against the extremist al-Shabab group in neighbouring Somalia.

"In the immediate term, I would imagine that all companies will ramp up their security, as it's absolutely imperative that [they] are seen as giving priority to the safety and well-being of their employees, be they indigenous or expatriates," he said. "In the longer term, these companies, and indeed most foreign companies in Kenya, will be looking at the government of Kenya's response to terrorism stemming from Somalia."

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