Nairobi (Caasimada Online) – A somber mood enveloped the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi as Kenya marked a decade since a harrowing attack by Somalia’s Al-Shabab militants claimed 67 lives.
Ten years back, a four-day siege followed the attack, during which the nation’s security forces tried to regain control.
In a heartfelt commemoration, government officials placed white and red roses at the mall’s main entrance, symbolizing the country’s resilience and the ever-present memories of that fateful day.
Richard Maige, a survivor and gardener at the mall, poignantly recounted his narrow escape.
He remembered diving into a culvert as the first gunshots echoed. Leveraging his intimate knowledge of the premises, he managed to find safety.
“It is only God who saved me from the attack. Many of my colleagues perished or sustained injuries,” Maige lamented.
The evolution of Kenya’s security apparatus
The 2013 Westgate Mall attack became an inflection point for Kenya’s security setup.
Initially, Kenyan security forces faced significant public and media backlash for their perceived disorganized response to the assault.
Nevertheless, this tragic event catalyzed reforms within the nation’s security agencies. The emphasis was now on better coordination and emergency preparedness.
Nicolas Delaunay, the project director for East and Southern Africa at the International Crisis Group, noted a marked difference in the country’s response to subsequent threats.
“You could observe a stark contrast in the efficiency of the response to the 2019 Dusit attack compared to the Westgate assault,” he said, referencing a siege on the Dusit hotel and office complex in Nairobi.
There, Kenyan security forces commendably ended the standoff in under a day, a testament to their improved operational capabilities.
The ongoing fight against militancy
Despite the significant strides, challenges persist. Al-Shabab militants continue to pose threats, with sporadic attacks occurring on Kenyan soil.
This year alone, Al-Shabab is believed to be responsible for the death of 20 individuals in Lamu County, bordering Somalia.
In a decisive response, Raymond Omollo, a senior official from the interior ministry, reiterated Kenya’s commitment.
“Our end goal is to maintain supreme surveillance along our borders and intensify security operations nationwide. We aim to neutralize the enemy before they strike,” he said during the anniversary.
In addition to countering militants, Kenya’s government has directed its military and security personnel to address other internal security issues.
They are actively involved in operations against cattle rustlers and armed bandits, particularly in the Rift Valley region of East Africa.
This tenacious spirit embodies Kenya’s resolve to ensure the safety of its citizens, even as it remembers and honors the past.