Exactly seven years ago, Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall was the focus of both local and international attention as Al Shabaab rained terror on the facility for days.
Today, the mall bursts with life, showing the state of a relatively healthy business, life, fun and meeting spot for clients.
From boutiques to cafés, electronic shops to banking halls and children amusement parks, Westgate is the epitome of resilience of a cruel security challenge that threatened its very existence years back.
At the entrance, security is properly beefed up by both state and private security contractors. Biometrics checks, German shepherds and CCTV cameras are the order of the day.
Being a weekend and a family day, most malls in Kenya are normally full with hundreds of clients (mostly in family units) trooping into them, a phenomenon to which Westgate is no exception.
- 1 How Westgate attack plotters were nailed
- 2 Westgate terror attack: Two suspects found guilty, one acquitted
- 3 Al Shabaab is still a threat seven years after mall attack
- 4 Tight security as Westgate reopens
However, yesterday there were no long queues of vehicles of clients trying to access the high-end shopping mall, loin Westlands, Nairobi.
The number of shoppers at the mall was low because of the anti-Covid-19 containment rules and by extension a reduction in the spending capacity of most Kenyans, who are smarting from the effects of the pandemic.
A quick survey shows few diners and winrers at restaurants and food courts. Queues are shorter at a telecommunications company outlet and being a weekend, banks are under lock and key. Jazz music played softly in the well-lit mall.
The children’s amusement park had a few children playing under the careful watch of parents, while a couple of lovebirds are seen descending the elevators. All the rental offices seemed occupied with either real estate offices, coffee bistros and boutiques, showing the true Kenyan spirit of resilience.
The mall’s beautiful architectural was reduced to a rubble of blocks and bricks in the attack. Steven Muchiri, a client to one of the shops that is located at Westgate recalled his experience, then a student in a school closeby.
“I remember hearing gunshots and thinking perhaps it was a bank robbery only for the siege to last a record four days. I was traumatised,” he said.
Yesterday though, he said he was confident in the security systems. “The place gives confidence for shopping; I feel so secure. I cannot lie that there are no memories of distress, but all those are bygones now,” he added. His sentiments were echoed by Shaleen, who was at the mall to have ice-cream.
A business woman who sought anonymity had a different thought. She told The Standard that business was low compared to seven years ago, as some people still fear a recurrence.
“Security is better, and everything is working well. However, there are still clients who feel that the events of September 2013 may recur,” she said.
After almost two years of inactivity during which renovation was going on, the mall opened its gates for shoppers in a grand relaunch on July 18, 2015.