Nairobians Return to Work, Donate Blood Amid Kenyan Mall SiegeDavid Malingha Doya
Nairobians got back to work, donated blood and gave money to charity amid insecurity in the Kenyan capital as a siege by Somalia-based Islamist militants of an upscale mall in the city entered a fourth day.
The East African nation’s police said they’re close to ending the standoff with al-Shabaab gunmen at the Westgate Mall that began Sept. 21 and left at least 62 people dead. An unknown number of people were taken hostage. The attack fulfills a threat by the al-Qaeda-linked militia to retaliate for Kenya’s deployment of troops two years ago in neighboring Somalia, where al-Shabaab has been fighting to create an Islamic state.
“I know we are not safe, but life has to continue,” said Hamdani Mbugua, a 32-year-old taxi driver who witnessed the beginning of the attack at the mall after he dropped off a client. “It is wrong for those terrorists to kill innocent people. I think the government should continue fighting them in Somalia and anywhere they are.”
Traffic jams were back to their usual volume as businesses reopened and workers returned to their jobs today after many stayed away yesterday. There was a visible increase in the number of police officers and army soldiers patrolling the streets and helicopters circled overhead.
Kenya deployed troops in Somalia in October 2011 to fight al-Shabaab after blaming the militants for a series of kidnappings and the murder of a British tourist in Kenya. Al-Shabaab, which has been battling Somalia’s government since at least 2006, denied the accusations.
“These guys may hit another place,” said Moses Githinji, a student who was shopping at an adjacent complex when the gunmen struck. “I think the government should concentrate on our security here, instead of going to fight in Somalia.”
Shopping centers close to Westgate Mall remained closed today. Roads around the mall were still cordoned off, while some schools in the vicinity had been shut.
The mall is located in a wealthy suburb in western Nairobi where high-rise apartments and office blocks are being built. Casual construction workers including Tony Wandera, a resident of the Nairobi slum of Kibera, were turned away in their search for day jobs as police continued to battle the remaining gunmen still inside the mall.
“The boss has said no job today, we check tomorrow,” he said.
Residents of the city responded to the attack through acts of goodwill. Food, water and blankets were given to victims of the attack and rescue workers. At Uhuru Park on the edge of the central business district, hundreds of people queued to donate blood after an appeal by the Kenya Red Cross to help the more than 200 people wounded in the attack.
More than 3,400 units of blood have been given since the exercise began countrywide on Sept. 22, the Kenya Red Cross said on its website.
An appeal by Safaricom Ltd., East Africa’s biggest mobile-phone company, for people to donate funds to help pay the victims’ hospital bills raised 56.9 million shillings ($650,000) since the siege began, according to its Twitter feed.
In the city center, dozens of people who gather on the streets for daily discussions known as Bunge Ndongos, or small parliament, voiced concern about the threat posed by the militants.
“I am scared, even here on the street, let alone in a mall or social gathering,” Charles Sind, a 35-year-old businessman who works for a cleaning company, said in an interview. “I don’t know what the attackers are going to hit next. I now have to watch my movements and my family’s, so that we can feel a little safe.”
Residents also questioned the effectiveness of the government’s security apparatus after it failed to prevent the attack. As many as 15 gunmen of different nationalities, armed with hand grenades and machine guns, were involved in the assault, according to the Interior Ministry.
The security situation in the country has worsened since the election of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in March, according to 46 percent of 2,000 respondents in an Ipsos-Synovate Kenya surveyed conducted in June.
“I hope after this, we will have a serious national dialogue,” said Janson Oyugi, a water-policy expert based in Nairobi. “Our intelligence service focuses all its efforts on monitoring opposition politicians instead of ensuring security within the borders.”