Westgate Mall prospers three years since terror attack

Sunday September 18 2016

Customers enjoy drinks at Westgate Mall on July 18, 2015. Photography is not allowed but companies that run stores in the mall have praised the return to normalcy. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Customers enjoy drinks at Westgate Mall on July 18, 2015. Photography is not allowed but companies that run stores in the mall have praised the return to normalcy. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

VINCENT ACHUKA
By VINCENT ACHUKA
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Kenya is marking the third anniversary since the deadly terrorist attack on Westgate Mall which reopened last year.

The shopping complex has achieved 100 per cent occupancy signifying a resilience in the face of terrorism, which last week reared its head once again in Mombasa after months of relative peace.

The mall, which reopened in July last year after two years of closure following the September 21, 2013 massacre that left 67 dead, has steadily been trying to establish itself as Nairobi’s premier shopping centre amidst a tough battle for shoppers following a rise in number of malls.

When the Sunday Nation visited the mall in July, exactly a year since reopening, there was only one store on the ground floor that had not been occupied but on Thursday, all shops were open as shoppers went about their businesses.

The second phase of reconstructing the mall in the section that was blown up during the rescue efforts in 2013 is already under way.

Hawk eyed officers from the International Reserve Group (IRG), an Israeli conglomerate that was hired to provide security at the mall last year could be seen patrolling the premises and scrutinising every shopper that goes in, with signs warning people not to leave unattended luggage placed after every few feet.

Photography is not allowed but companies that run stores in the mall have praised the return to normalcy saying it shows the ability of Kenya to rise through difficulties.

“It’s been a year of progressive growth at all the eight departmental stores,” said Mr Thiagarajan Ramamurthy, the Regional Operations and Strategy Director, Nakumatt Holdings, who are the anchor tenant at the mall.

“Numbers wise we are operating at just about 80 per cent of the pre-2013 capacity. As more and more stores reopen at Westgate, we’re confident of enjoying better footfall. This in our view is fair enough as the size of Westgate Mall is also significantly smaller with only the first phase open,” he said.

DO NOT BE AFRAID

Safaricom is one of the major players that have returned to the mall.

“We believe that Westgate continues to provide a unique experience for customers in the area and the growing trust that customers have in the mall is proof of the resilient nature of our community,” said Mr Victor Ngumo, Head of the Nairobi Region for the telco.

However, there are questions that still remain unanswered about the attack.

For instance, it has never been known how many attackers there were, what happened to them and why it took so long to neutralise them.

Additionally, President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to form a commission of inquiry to investigate the attack and any failing by security agencies — but nothing has happened to date.

Nevertheless, former employees who were present when gunmen started shooting discriminately but came back to work in the premises say they are not afraid.

One of them, Nakumatt Westgate Branch Manager David Muturi - who helped to rescue shoppers during the attack - said the assail was a moment of madness that should never happen again.

Mr Muturi has urged shoppers not to be afraid because the mall is secure.