A business owner at the Westgate mall, Ally Manji, told Nairobi writer, Neelam Verjee, about his experience after the siege began. He reopened his shops in other malls in Nairobi today. Edited excerpts:
My family owns four different shops in Westgate, including two high-end watch retailers, and an outlet for Bose, the electronics shop. Within five minutes of the shooting, I received a call from one of our employees. My brother and I raced to the mall. We were not sure if it was a robbery, or an attack at this stage. We have at least 10 employees in the mall, and we wanted to account for them and secure our property. We waited in the parking lot for what seemed like an eternity, paralyzed by the sound of gunfire. A police officer eventually came outside, and asked us if we would help to carry the wounded to safety. We carried two badly injured people out of the burger restaurant right next to the mall entrance. We found another two other people hiding behind the counter. They were unhurt, but terrified. The police were going shop to shop and evacuating everyone they found. All of our employees have been accounted for. People had taken shelter anywhere they could find. In between spates of gunfire, we carried out the bodies of the dead. There were eight of us—just people off the street—and we must have removed up to 20 dead bodies. Every time the police took cover, so did we. It is amazing how loud gunfire is when you are right underneath it. After that, we never went back in. The reinforcements continued to arrive, and eventually completely took over.
We have shops in other malls in Nairobi, and we opened those up on Tuesday morning. I closed up early though, at noon, because there was no business. There was a heightened security presence in the malls, with armed police and rigorous vehicle checks. I knew that it was going to be a quiet working day, but for me, it was more important to open up shop and get back into our daily lives. Tuesday was not just another work day. People are nervous, and it will take time to get past this situation. You do that by taking steps forward, and can slowly regain the confidence to walk into a mall, get on with your business, and feel that you can be safe.