In Nairobi, ordinary folks still jittery a year after Westgate siege

Not enough has been done to stop another terror attack, many here say. The Westgate mall attack killed 67 people.

THOMAS MUKOYA/REUTERS
A security guard stood outside the Westgate shopping mall this week. The mall remains deserted following last year's attack by gunmen in Nairobi.

One year after gunmen from Somali-based Al Shabab stormed the Westgate shopping mall, killing 67 people, ordinary Kenyans say they remain jittery, and angry that little has been done to stop another attack.

Sunday marks a year since four terrorists seized the mall for four days while the world watched smoke plume from the complex, one of the poshest addresses in Kenya.

Today, people in Nairobi go about their routines, though there remains an undercurrent of suspicion and caution about such things as who one sits next to on the bus. And a low-level conflict is under way of incidents, including grenades in trash cans and exchanges of gunfire with police.

“I always take cover at any loud bang. It instills fear in me.  I also dread the inside of shopping malls. I don’t think we are safe anywhere,” says Susan Mutheu, a middle-aged curios trader who runs a stall in the Westlands area, about a half-mile from Westgate.

A number of those interviewed said similar things about the atmosphere, while others said the government, while on a campaign to evict Somalis who don't have passports, has not taken systematic action to stop another attack.

“The terrorists did not fall from the sky,” says John “Magic” Nyagah, a dreadlocked taxi driver in the city. “They came by road. I don’t see anything to show that the roads have been secured.”

Elvis Wainaina, a flower vendor, echoes a theme heard here from many, when he says a superficial increase in security is really not enough in the wake of terror assaults in Nairobi and in coastal cities. “What I can see are [more] metal detectors in shops and supermarkets. I am not sure if these would stop a suicide bomber." 

Besides, says Lamek Oyoo, who stopped on his motorcycle to talk with a reporter, the hand-held metal detectors now found in large stores, churches, and popular hangouts are not being properly used.

“They only ‘brush’ the detector against people’s pockets and bags. I think the searches are poorly done and this leaves the citizens exposed,” says Mr. Oyoo.

Still, other Kenyans who agreed to be interviewed at random point out that there has been a discernible slowdown in violence in recent months, and say that a return to normalcy is not out of the question.

“There are more frequent police patrols,” says Hussein Simiti, a young man who says he is looking for a job.

“Grenade attacks have also decreased and there are cameras on the streets,” says Helen Moraa, a bus conductor. She adds a note of caution: “But I think the security agencies need to be more on the alert.”

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