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Westgate Mall finally rises from ashes of terror attack

By JOSEPHAT THIONG'O | July 15th 2015

The reconstructed Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi has literally risen from the ashes of a terror attack that claimed 69 lives and will reopen on Saturday.

Having got back its sheen, with fresh paint and concrete works covering its painful scars of bullets and grenade attack as well as splatter of human blood and flesh on its floors and walls, yesterday it welcomed its first trickle of curious Kenyans eager to sample its revival.

Some 22 months after that dreadful Saturday - September 21, 2013 - traders and workers at the mall wiped off tears, brushed away the dust and soldiered on unbowed into the belly of the mall where anarchy created by terrorists reigned.

Each of their step reverberated their relief that the mall is back on its feet, and with it their livelihood. Like other Kenyans, the workers have remained unbowed and fiercely patriotic even as they grapple with the scars left behind by the brazen attack by four bloodthirsty gunmen.

They are anxiously waiting for Saturday so that they can pick up the thread of life from where it was violently snapped by the terrorists.

Yesterday when we toured the mall, the blood-curdling stains on the walls and rubble left at at the scene by the terrorist attack were gone and in their place were shiny marble floors and well-painted walls. Most of the stalls that were operational before the attack are set to reopen, with most of the reconstruction work already complete.

At the entrance, we found ongoing construction of the Art café and just a few metres ahead is the reopened Nakumatt Supermarket.

Right at the entrance to the supermarket is the trademark Elephant metal sculpture that has immortalised what the terror survivors went through every time clips of the attack are played by TV stations, evoking painful emotions. The metal sculpture acted as a camouflage for shoppers who stared at death as they dodged terrorists' bullets.

But the scene is now totally different. Upon entering the supermarket, one is welcomed by smiling faces that are sort of an assurance that the establishment had put the dark days past them, but still hold the lives of those lost in their hearts.

The shelves in the various sections such as the electronics, food, clothes and even the liquor section are all stocked up and ready for customers to come knocking in search of them.

The second floor plays host to a number of eateries among them KFC, Urban and Art Café, all of which were tenants before the attack. They are clearly ready to resume business.

From the shiny elevators that serve both the first and second floors, one is drawn by the same serene and calm ambiance that the mall was known for.

Glass walls allowing you to see into the supermarket and the sports section as well as other stalls give the place a simple but elegant appeal that is alluring to the eye.

On the uppermost floor, workers were busy putting the final touches to the Movie theatre that is set to be better and bolder, with brightly-coloured walls attracting shoppers.

The well-lit ceiling of the building brings out class and elegance, subduing memories of when it was blown up and reduced to rubble.

All this reconstruction, which according to Nakumatt's Managing Director Atul Shah is the first phase, cost  Sh1.7billion.

 Memorial park

"We shall have the official opening of the Westgate mall this Saturday at 10am and are calling for the support of all Kenyans. All are welcome to come see the new experience," Shah said.

"Phase one of the reconstruction of the Westgate mall is complete. It has cost us Sh1.7 billion and the rest of the construction is expected to cost approximately Sh1 billion," added Shah.

According to the MD, all the stalls in the building are going to be fully operational following the reopening, with only four or five tenants opting not to reopen their businesses.

Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero was also present and pointed out that the lives that were lost in the attack were not forgotten and a memorial park had been put up across the mall in their honour.

"The terrorists killed our friends and relatives but not our Kenyan spirit and resilience. Two years after the attack, we are back and ready to re-open this mall. A memorial park has been put up to honour those that lost their lives during the unfortunate attack," said Kidero.

Westgate Shopping Mall director Alex Tranchtenberg was confident the reopening would attract more customers than before.

He revealed security had been stepped up but said he would not go into details for obvious reasons. "We are closely working with the anti-terrorism unit to improve the security of the mall," said Tranchtenberg.

He added that over the two years, only 10 per cent of the shop owners had opted out but their premises had been allocated other tenants.

Tranchtenberg also disclosed the second phase of the construction would see them putting up 30 to 40 more stalls.

"The second phase of construction, which is approximated to cost Sh1 billion, is going to be inclusive of a parking lot behind the mall as opposed to the rooftop, where it was originally located," he added

He said reconstruction of the mall was financed by a local bank, adding that the insurance company responsible for handling the same had not compensated the tenants, two years down the line.

"If the insurance company responsible does not pay up, then we will do the necessary," asserted Tranchtenberg without elaborating.

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