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Nairobians still scared of Westgate’s shadow of death

The Westgate Shopping Mall stands in defiance, rising from the ashes of a terror attack two years ago.

Like a fort, it tells stories of its painful past and promising future.

Uniformed and plainclothed security officers with guns, walkie-talkies and ear pieces mill around. This was not the case before the attack.

It does not escape one’s attention that security is beefed, not just for the safety of traders who have reinvested in their shattered businesses, but also for the patrons they expect to start streaming in.

On the day we visited the mall, there were only a handful of shoppers. It was a sharp contrast to the days before September 21, 2013, when hundreds thronged the place.

FEW CUSTOMERS

Many eateries are yet to reopen. The few that have, are deserted, save for a few patrons chatting over coffee.

There are few customers in most shops. Indeed, this has pushed shop owners to give discounts, in some cases up to 40 per cent.

One such shop is Diamond Watch Co Limited, next to the entrance. It is popularly known as Rado Switzerland and specialises in luxury watches. Here a watch can cost a staggering Sh3 million.

“We hope the discounts will attract customers. Business is low. Even then, we are advertising on radio stations,” said the shop’s manager, Mr Raj Rashiyani.

Ms Saira Karim, a staffer at the shop was optimistic that though business was yet to pick up, sales would shoot up soon.

“People are scared. They prefer other places like Thika Road Mall. Fortunately, some customers pop in once in a while,” she said.

Across the shop was a group of young women selling hair-curling equipment. Their stall barely had clients and they lit up when the Nation team approached. That was the same reaction at the curio stalls on the first floor. The hair stylists said their business was looking up.

Mr Simiyu Mzee, a cleaner at the mall told us the September 21, 2013 events were still fresh in the memories of many Kenyans.

PEOPLE STILL SCARED

“I think people are still scared. Once in a while, a group of tourists comes,” said Mr Mzee.

Mr Pravin Shah, a customer in one of the clothes shops, was also hoping for the best.

“I come here to shop in spite of what happened. We are a resilient nation and we have overcome terrorism. This is our country. This is our mall,” he said.

He echoed Governor Evans Kidero’s sentiments that the opening of the mall was a sign of citizens’ determination despite the insecurity challenges the country faced.

Shortly after the opening of the mall, Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet posted on his Twitter page: “#Westgate Mall looks magnificent. Our new symbol of courage and resilience, strength and fortitude.”

And on Sunday, Mr David Muturi, the Nakumatt Westgate Branch Manager, invited the public to see what was on offer.

Nakumatt has six outlets on two floors and Mr Muturi was optimistic that once the eateries and mobile phone shops reopened, the number of customers at the mall would increase.