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An Inhospitable City: Nairobi After the Dusit Hotel Bombings

In Kenya’s capital, the extensive security measures that have always divided the city—once by race, now by class—have grown even more extreme.
Members of security forces secure a building near the Dusit hotel (seen in the background) in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 15, during a 19-hour terrorist attack at the hotel complex.
Members of security forces secure a building near the Dusit hotel (seen in the background) in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 15, during a 19-hour terrorist attack at the hotel complex.Baz Ratner/Reuters

NAIROBI, Kenya—The recent attack on the Dusit D2 hotel complex is not the first time terror was visited on Nairobi. Since the first post-independence bombing in 1975, the city has been regularly targeted by terrorists of all stripes—from the state-sponsored variety, to those opposed to the state, to militants pursuing causes far beyond Kenya’s borders. And since Kenya sent troops into neighboring Somalia in October 2011 to take on the al-Shabaab terror group, the militants have made good on their threat to target buildings in the capital. These attacks have had a profound effect on the character of the city as well as on the relationships between its residents.

The most obvious and visible change has been in the gauntlet of security checks and metal detectors that ordinary Nairobians have to navigate in nearly every aspect of their everyday lives. This has been accompanied by the vacuuming up of citizens’ data on an industrial scale. Entering malls and office buildings, going to church, and sometimes even boarding public transport requires the permission of a wand-wielding security guard who may demand your phone number and record your ID number and car registration.