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December 17, 2018

How Nairobi has changed since August 7 bomb blast

An aerial view of the bomb blast area in Nairobi is seen in the morning hours, in this file picture talken August 7, 1998. The Cooperative Bank building (L) the blast at Ufundi Co-operative House (C) and the American Embassy are on (R)
An aerial view of the bomb blast area in Nairobi is seen in the morning hours, in this file picture talken August 7, 1998. The Cooperative Bank building (L) the blast at Ufundi Co-operative House (C) and the American Embassy are on (R)

How Nairobi has changed since the cowardly act by al Qaeda-linked terrorists

The small, hand-held metal detectors are probably the most enduring symbols of the August 7th 1998 bomb attacks in Nairobi.

Fifteen years ago before the blast, a Nairobi resident would be shocked if anyone tried to frisk them before entering a building.

Last year when then Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Barasa protested the search and even threatened the security guard, she lost her job.

More than 200 people were killed during the blast which targeted the US embassy on Moi Avenue near the Co-operative Bank House.

“I was inside a matatu when the explosion occurred,” Stanley Mutuma who was injured during the explosion told the Star in an earlier interview. “It was just like any other day and I had taken a matatu to town (City Centre). The explosion saw us thrown out of the vehicle and I later found myself in hospital.”

Windows were shattered in a radius of nearly one kilometre. A large number of eye injuries occurred because people in buildings nearby who had heard the first explosion and the shooting went to their office windows to have a look when the main blast occurred.

Many who were inside their vehicles opened their windows to try and see what was happening. “We were trying to look out and see what was going on,” said Mutuma. “This is when shrapnel from breaking glass from the Co-operative House and Ufundi House which were damaged by the blast hit my eyes. I was later taken to Kikuyu Hospital by my parents.”

After seeking medication in local hospitals and abroad, Mutuma regained his lost sight. Although it was a painful journey, Mutuma says he has forgiven the terrorists. “I hold no grudges against those bloody terrorists but I hope in future they would not choose to carry their evil acts on innocent men, women and children who had or have nothing to do with their perverted ideas about the world,” said Mutuma.

Americans blamed Osama Bin Laden's protégé and Kenyan citizen Fazul Abdullah Mohammed as the mastermind of the bombings.

They gave a “paltry” $4.3 million to rebuild some of the infrastructure destroyed in the blast. While the Americans were compensated, the Kenyan victims have tried and failed to sue the US government for compensation.

After the blast, Americans bombed the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, where 50 per cent of Sudan's medications for both people and animals were manufactured.

Bill Clinton's administration claimed that the plant produced chemical weapons, but a thorough investigation after the strikes confirmed this was not true.

The biggest casualty has been the freedom Kenyans enjoyed 15 years ago while the biggest beneficiary is the private security industry.

Currently, Kenya has more than 2,000 registered private security companies employing over 300,000 guards. The business itself is highly profitable and several estimates show it has an annual turnover of about Sh15 billion.

Kenya National Private Security Workers Union secretary general Isaac Andabwa admits that many of these companies are questionable and professionalism has deteriorated.

“There is no harmonised curriculum for training guards,” says Andabwa. Experts have raised the red flag because of the growing complaints as well as consensus that some guards may in future be allowed to carry firearms, just like the police.

The country is also grappling with Private Security Industry Regulation Bill 2010. KNPSWU complains the Bill has been dragging in parliament because some top government officials who own private security firms have frustrated its implementation.

The Bill requires that all firms in operation be registered, guards be trained properly and also paid better salaries. It will also give guidelines on how guards can be vetted and issued with guns.

Another change has been the naturalisation of terrorists . “Terrorists are no longer foreigners. They are Bwire, Mutua, Njoroge – they are now Kenyans,” Andabwa told the Star . Last year, Kenyan Elgiva Bwire was found with 13 grenades during a raid on a house in Nairobi’s Kayole Estate. Bwire confessed to being a member of the al Shaabab. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Since then, security operations in many buildings has been heightened with the hand metal detectors being the main weapons.

"Our sector has not seen any reforms. Training should be taken seriously because currently we have no harmonised curriculum and most of the mushrooming firms do not even train their guards,” Andabwa told the Star recently. The proposed Bill seeks to professionalise the booming private security industry by introducing standards and better training of staff.

All players in the private security industry including those conducting security-related training will be registered and they must meet certain values for their registration to be renewed regularly, says the Bill. This will be done by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority.

Miriti is the author of The threat of terrorism in East and Central Africa. He is based in New York and has previously provided the US army with logistics in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Effective security measures ought to be beefed up at areas regarded as terrorist targets to respond timely if by any chance the intelligence fails to detect any terror operation,” says anti-terrorism expert Richard Miriti. “Counter terrorism laws should however take in consideration human liberty and freedom,” he says.

 Since the 1998 bomb blast, cases of bomb and grenade attacks have been on the rise. Before then, the only attacks experienced dated back to March 1,1975, when a blast occurred in a lavatory at the Starlight Nightclub (which stood on the site of the modern Integrity Centre) and at the Information Bureau near the Hilton Hotel.

The third, in which 27 people lost their lives, simultaneously happened at the OTC bus station in which the police tried to fix the populist Nyandarua North MP JM Kariuki.

There was another shocking bomb attack in Nairobi at the Norfolk Hotel on New Year’s Eve 1980. In the attack, a bomb flattened the Norfolk Hotel, killing 20 people and injuring 80. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by an Arab group that said it was seeking retaliation for Kenya's allowing Israeli troops to refuel in Nairobi during the 1976 raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda to rescue hostages from a hijacked aircraft.

On June 11, 2007, two people including a man suspected to have been carrying the explosive died outside City Gate Restaurant next to Hotel Ambassadeur during the 8am incident.

In late September 2009, revellers at Simmers restaurant along Kenyatta Avenue stumbled on a grenade under seats. The Russian-made explosive was similar to the ones used by the General Service Unit and the military.

The next time Kenya was hit by by terror bombings was in the run up to the 2002 general election. On November 28, some 15 people, including three Israeli tourists, were killed in a bomb attack on the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel near Mombasa.

This attack was also blamed on al-Qaeda but arrests were made and suspects charged. However, in 2005 a judge acquitted three men accused of conspiracy in the attack and the charges against four others for the same crime were dismissed by the court.

The entry of Somalia-based al Shabaab which has links with al Qaeda saw other deaths through bomb and grenade attacks in the country. Kenya has been struck by a series of blasts since it sent troops across the border in October 2010 to crush al Shabaab militants. Nairobi and Mombasa has suffered a string of grenade attacks.

In June 2010, there was an attack in Nairobi's Uhuru Park that police blamed on followers of al Shabaab. Three grenades exploded at a political rally in Uhuru Park killing six people and injuring 30.

Then in December 2010, three people died and 39 were injured in a grenade attack on a bus in Nairobi. It has never been revealed who was behind that attack and nobody has yet been charged.

On December 4, 2010, three policemen including two traffic police officers and an AP were killed in separate grenade attacks in Nairobi and about two weeks later, one person was killed, 26 injured after a grenade explodes at Kampala Coach bus terminus, River Road.

In October 17, 2011, one person was killed in yet another grenade attack that also saw 15 injured after a grenade was hurled into Mwaura's pub in Nairobi. This was before another person was killed and eight injured after a grenade was thrown at OTC bus stage seven days later.

The attackers who seemed to change tack visited Garissa’s East African Pentecostal church on November 16, 2011 and killed two people in a grenade attack. Four people were killed on October 27, 2011 when a grenade hit a vehicle carrying KCSE material in Mandera while another three killed in twin grenade attacks on Garissa’s Holiday Inn Hotel on November 24, 2011.

On April 4 last year, two people were killed and 30 injured in grenade attacks at a church crusade in Mtwapa, Mombasa which was to be followed by another attack three weeks later which claimed one life and injuring 16 at the God’s House of Miracles International Church in Nairobi’s Ngara area.

There were two attacks in May which saw two people die. A security guard was killed after two grenades were lobbed into Bella Vista bar in Mombasa while one person died and 30 injured after an explosion rocked Assanands building along Moi venue in Nairobi on May 16 and 28 respectively. Another attack on June 25 killed one person and several others injured in Jericho pub in Mombasa.

But the worst came on July 1, 2012, when 17 people were killed and 45 wounded in grenade attacks at the Garissa Catholic and AIC churches. Among the dead were two police officers who lost two guns to the attackers in the raid at the local Africa Inland Church. The officers were guarding the church.

It's clear that Kenya will never be the same again after the 1998 terror attack.

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