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Assailants find Eastleigh's poor state a safe haven, playfield

01 April 2014, 17:45

Nairobi - Congested, dilapidated, uncontrollably developed, over populated and dirty.

These are some of the words that aptly describe Eastleigh, a commercial and residential district in Nairobi, which hosts a large Somali population.

For any person visiting the district for the first time, the congestion and dilapidated roads put one off, as Eastleigh, despite its modern buildings and booming business, resembles a huge slum.

One wonders why an area hosting all top banks in Kenya and some of the best hotels in Nairobi would turn out to be one of the dirtiest.

Hop, step and jump. That is the formula that one must use while walking on Eastleigh's roads that are full of dirty water and sometimes raw sewage from burst sewer pipes.

Then there is dirt scattered everywhere. The area is filthy with heaps of garbage dotting every alleyway.

And as one walks covering their nose to avoid foul smell, tracing a house if you are a first-timer in Eastleigh is a huge challenge due to its unplanned development.

Turn left, go straight, turn right and then you will see a blue building. The convention way of giving direction does not make sense in Eastleigh for first timers, thanks to uncontrolled development.

Then the huge population of people of various origins, particularly Somali immigrants, is another thing that defines Eastleigh. The district is the most populated in Nairobi, outside slums.

Its huge population has made service provision that include better roads and cleanliness a pipe dream.

But despite all the negatives, residents have accepted their plight as they make do with what they have, the reason why business booms in Eastleigh day and night.

However, amidst the congestion, the poor roads, garbage heaps and booming business, terrorism is also thriving in Eastleigh.

Terrorists have turned Eastleigh into their playfield, with the district's poor state giving them a safe haven to conduct their businesses undetected.

The terrorists make improvised explosive devices and later use them against residents undetected. The attacks have made Eastleigh, which attracts huge crowds from different parts of Kenya, the most unsafe place in Nairobi.

The latest incident happened Monday evening after assailants conducted simultaneous attacks in the district, killing at least six people and injuring seriously a dozen others.

In one of the incidents, the attackers went into an eatery full of people having supper and hurled an explosive device inside and closed the door from outside to prevent escape, leaving six people dead and several others injured.

The other incidents happened at an eatery and a bus terminus. The incidents come barely a day after a man was killed in a house in Eastleigh as he tried to assemble an explosive.

The device exploded causing cracks on the walls of the house and shattering its windows as his accomplices escaped in a vehicle.

Police launched a manhunt for the at least two suspects but they have not made any arrests. Monday evening's incident shows how the terrorists are emboldened.

They can strike barely a day after an explosive hits the area and kill with reckless abandon.

"We are living in fear," Bernard Kilonzo, a resident of Eastleigh, said Monday evening. "We do not know which place or who will be bombed next. It is time to vacate Eastleigh."

His fear is shared by thousands of other residents in Eastleigh, who cannot identify a law abiding citizens from terrorists as they coexist.

"How do you tell who is a terrorist and who is not. Most of the people carrying out the attacks are of Somali origin. But how do you tell the difference as nearly half of Eastleigh residents are of Somali origin," wondered Kilonzo.

That Eastleigh is a huge nightmare to Kenya's security agents is an open secret to residents.

"Police have intensified patrols in Eastleigh as most of the terror attacks in Nairobi have occurred in the area, but their efforts have all been in vain," he said.

The concern about the rising insecurity in Eastleigh is however not only among native Kenyans. Members of the Somali community are also concerned about their business and the ethnic profiling that has arisen from increased terror attacks.

"Insecurity situation has affected our businesses as customers who used to come to this area are keeping off. I have several customers who I used to call whenever I bring new stock and then they would come to buy the goods. Nowadays they don't," said Abdul Jibril.

Then there is the ethnic profiling that has surged with rise in attacks. Every member of the Somali community is now looked at with suspicion.

"You cannot board public transport vehicles freely because fellow passengers look at you with suspicion, especially if you have a luggage," he said.

Police have promised tough action to curb terrorism attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa, another Kenyan city where terrorist have attacked in the past days.

- Xinhua

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