Tight security as Westgate reopens
By Lucy Mwihaki and Graham Kajilwa
| July 19th 2015
Shoppers who turned up to witness the rebirth of Westgate Shopping Mall were treated to a rare security screening yesterday.
They were subjected to a three-point security check-up, which interestingly, was overseen by Israeli officers, the Kenya Police and the Kenya Defence Force with the dreaded K9 police dogs. The reopening comes just a few days ahead of US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Kenya. Obama has said he would use the platform presented to him (when he visits Kenya) to support for the region’s war on terror.
State-of-the-art technology was also in play at the security check, where the use of security cameras, radar detectors, metal detectors and vehicle beam lights was witnessed. Visitors were monitored at a control room at the entrance. Motorists had to switch off their engines to avoid electrical interference with the systems.
Hundreds of shoppers thronged the mall, which included new shops, for instance, a Samsung outlet and relocation of older shops such as Nakumatt, which is now on the first floor from ground floor.
Ali Aboud, a security expert, expressed joy with the new look, saying: “It looks more modernised. I like it”. Aboud, who was with his family, said he could not have missed the opportunity to be at the reopening.
It was the same case for Judy Wambui of Super Snacks Limited, who despite her horrifying experience during the attack, was enthusiastic to be back. “I was in Westgate during the attack and I was seven months pregnant. But there is no fear in me whatsoever, I am glad to be back,” she said.
As others went to witness the reopening of the mall 22 months after a terror attack, a section of Kenyans turned up in search of jobs openings. “I came here to look for a job. I heard Nakumatt had openings in their IT Department and was hoping to get the position,” said Hezekiah Amanya, an IT specialist. Despite losing his cousin during the 2013 attacks, he was content with the new security measures put in place.
Inasmuch as a majority of the shoppers were optimistic about security measures in place, others remained skeptical and apprehensive, saying new trends in terrorism were still a thing to worry about.
Alka Dhall said she was still skeptical of the security precautions in place and asked the guards to be more thorough and vigilant. “I asked the guards to check me over and over and I hope they did the same with other people,” she said.
A former Sony employee, Julia Birego was literally motionless on the thought of entering the Mall, saying she was not willing to freely walk around following the trauma she endured. The large turnout of shoppers gave hope to numerous traders, who anticipated normalcy in their businesses. Catherine Nyakanini, the Public Relations manager for Healthy Living, said the reopening has come with a wide business scope for the company.
“The shop was small back then, but now we have expanded and employed new people. We hope this would fetch us more,” she said. The Healthy Living staff reopened their shop by lighting a candle vigil in memoir of victims of the terror attack. Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett and Standard Group CEO Sam Shollei attended the reopening. Dr Kidero and Mr Boinett assured Kenyans that their security is the Government’s top priority and the reopening of the mall was a sign of Kenya’s resilience.
Mr Shollei urged both Kenyans and the international community to visit the mall as a sign of solidarity and strength. “These businesses need people to grow. It is you and me that would help them prosper,” said Shollei.
Some 68 people were killed and scores injured during the terror attack on the mall in September 2013. Several nationalities were among victims of the daring Al Shabaab attack that attracted coverage from the foreign media.
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