Nairobi, Kenya (ViaNews) – September 21, 2013, is a day that is carved into Kenya’s history as one of the darkest moments. The bright and sunny Saturday afternoon gave the bubbly shoppers at the mall and Kenyans alike no inkling that disaster was to strike.
Shortly before midday, four heavily armed men affiliated to the militia group Al-Shabaab opened fire and killed over 60 people in a siege that lasted hours as they also engaged various security agents.
The bold attack in the country’s capital, Nairobi came as retaliation due to the deployment of Kenyan troops to Somalia which the terrorist group was against. Despite the dust settling, the country every year commemorates those who lost their lives four years ago. However, questions still linger on the state of security in the country.
This anniversary comes at a time when the nation is embroiled in the build-up to a re-run of the presidential elections. This is connected to the previous case we reported where the Supreme Court of Kenya invalidated the elections held on August 8 over discrepancies in the procedures used by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
IEBC was mainly found to be at fault with the manner in which results were transmitted contrary to the provisions of the constitution. Furthermore, Kenyans are now set to take to the polls again on October 17 to decide who between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga will take the mantle for the next four years.
Business as usual at the mall
Fast forward to 2017 and people have resumed their lives while business at the mall has picked up. The mall was officially reopened in 2015 as a show of a nation willing to rebuild. The transition from the horrific scene witnessed during the attack to date has elicited mixed reactions from various quarters. Edwin Mutua, a 22-year-old economics student vows not to enter shopping malls.
“It was shocking and a great loss for Kenya to see innocent people killed in that manner. I am very cautious of the places I go to especially the crowded ones. I decided that I will never go to shopping malls because I am afraid,” Mutua explained.
Mary Wasike, a frequent visitor to the mall, believes that Kenyans should unite during this period. “This is a time for politicians to set aside their differences and lead the nation in remembering the Westgate victims. We still have them in our prayers and thoughts,” she said.
Security beefed up but terror threat still ripe
More stringent security measures have been put up in place to ensure the safety of shoppers and enthusiasts. There are more policemen on constant watch stationed nearby who have sophisticated equipment including art bomb detectors and surveillance gear.
As part of security protocols, shoppers are banned from taking photographs in a culture where ‘selfies’ are popular unless with a permit from the government. With Kenya being the second largest consumer of social media in Africa, security agencies have put this as a measure to avoid aiding terror groups that also have a presence in the digital world.
Retaliatory attacks have been witnessed in Kenya since the Westgate siege with Lamu County being the hardest hit. Education Minister Fred Matiangi, who doubled up as Minister for Interior Security following the death of Maj. Gen Joseph Nkaiserry has set up curfews in those hot spots as security operations get into full swing.
The Kenya Defence Force has already started flashing out Al-Shabaab militants in the vast Boni Forest of about 1,339 square kilometres through bombing. The forest, located in Lamu County, has in the past proven to be a nightmare for security operations due to its terrain.