, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 21 – Located 4.3 kilometers from the Nairobi Central Business District, the Westgate Shopping Mall is a symbol of Kenya’s undying resilience in the face of terrorism.
From fashion stores, jewelry outlets, eateries, electronic shops, and a movie theater, Westgate is booming with life five years after a devastating terror attack that left 71 dead and 200 injured.
An early-morning raid on September 21, 2013 by Al Shabaab operatives had left 62 civilians, and five soldiers, dead as a multi-agency security team neutralized four attackers.
A campaign to capture the Al Shabaab terrorists behind the attack had lasted three days as some of the gunmen retreated to a strongroom inside a supermarket at the mall.
The security team had fired twin anti-tank bazooka shells to neutralize the gunmen in the strongroom.
A Friday morning visit at the mall by this reporter showed an impressive recovery since its reopening on July 18, 2015.
Tenants and shoppers continued to troop in undeterred by the dark memories of yesteryears.
Nearly 90 per cent of businesses stationed at the mall at the time of the attack have since the reopening of the shopping center reclaimed their former spaces.
Debssie Beads, a bead jewelry outlet owned by Geofrey Mbulere and Emilie Nyange is one such business.
Sharack Otieno, a customer service attendant at the shop told Capital FM News that business had recorded an upward trajectory since the reopening of Westgate.
“Since we came in (2015) the business has been doing well. We have clients who even buy beads and take them abroad. We also ship orders abroad,” Otieno said.
He however noted a decline in traffic at the mall since the Nakumatt Supermarket closed its branch owing to persisting cash flow challenges that forced the mall to shut a number of branches including an outlet at the Junction Mall, and the Thika Road Mall.
According to Otieno the number of shoppers visiting Westgate could soon increase with the anticipated entry of a South Africa supermarket – Shoperite – towards the end of the year.
Diana Moraa, a waitress at a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) outlet at the Westgate Mall exuded similar confidence saying the lack of a supermarket at the shopping center had negatively impacted on traffic.
“I can assure you that once we have a supermarket business will increase to a great extent. There will be a positive change,” she said.
Moraa and Otieno however both concurred that security had been heightened at the shopping mall.
Capital FM News noted during its visit on Friday enhanced screening of both shoppers and cars accessing the mall complete with metal detectors and scanners.
Raphael Kitinya, a shopper we caught up with at the KFC outlet in the mall singled out revamped security as the reason he has continued to visit the mall after it reopened its doors in July 2015.
“It is my fifth time coming to this mall and I recall the first trip I was somehow sacred about visiting. The mall is now revamped and even better than before and that is why I feel comfortable here,” he said.
“My first visit after the reopening I remember recalling the entire experience during the September 2013 attack. I was not directly affected by my parents had colleagues who worked here,” Kitinya said.
But just like Moraa and Otieno, Kitinya emphasized the need for a supermarket at the mall saying it would enhance customer experience.
Meanwhile, the National Police Service has continued to restate its vigilance to thwart terror plots amid intelligence reports of planned infiltration into the country by Al Shabaab terrorists.
NPS Inspector General Joseph Boinnet said on Friday that two suspected terrorists were arrested in Eastleigh on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the attack on the Westgate Mall.
According to Boinnet the police had obtained intelligence on a plot by Al Shabaab to infiltrate its operatives with an aim of staging an attack.
“We wish to inform that whilst every effort is being made to uncover and neutralize such plots, we call on the public to exercise higher levels of alertness and to report promptly anything noted that’s out of the ordinary to the police for immediate action,” he said.