As I noted in my post about last week’s siege in Nairobi, I was a bit weary as to how Nairobi would be responding to such a shock. I remember arriving back in the states two and a half months after 9/11 and was taken aback by how the atmosphere felt.
I’d have to say that I was a bit surprised by what I found in my first 24 hrs in Nairobi. Landing at the airport that was recently ravaged by fire, I was frankly nothing but impressed by the progress. Less than two months later the construction was moving at warp speed and a glasses rooftop gave an idea of what to expect long term. The new area being used for immigration was nicely set up and had three times as many agents as previously. I first time into NBO was more than an hour wait and this time I was through in no time. If a major airport had the same scale of incident in the US it would be hard to recover any faster.
The other incredible progress came in the completion of several key roads that had appeared to be in perpetual construction on past visits. They are very well done, with wide spaces to accommodate pedestrian traffic. It felt difficult to recognize areas that I know well that now appear transformed.
While Westgate still hangs in the air, restaurants are still packed and people are back to living their lives. Last night at a poker party, where I was the big winner with 4,400 Kenyan Shillings ($50), the conversation naturally went to Westgate. With ten people from all different countries, one of the biggest commonalities was that any of us could have easily been there. Some were in the area when things started and fled. Everyone was thinking how glad they were not to be there.
It was also clear that questions still linger. The reports in the media are very different than those circulating in Nairobi. There is talk about conspiracy and how botched the response was. There are real life tales of the horrors that took place and just how bad it was. This was not a hostage attack as originally described. Hostage implies that there is a possibility of meeting demands. This was simply a brutal massacre. Most questions will likely remain unanswered, as Nairobi gets back on its feet.