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Eastleigh back to life after terror attacks, police swoop

13 October 2014, 09:26

Nairobi - Abandoned businesses, empty streets and police security checks were what many encountered when they visited Eastleigh, a commercial hub on the outskirts of Nairobi, that is mainly inhabited by the members of the Somali community, sometime in May.

Police had moved into the suburb in April to flush out terrorists and illegal immigrants from the neighboring Somalia. The aliens were accused of working with Somali-militant group Al- Shabaab to perpetuate terrorism in the East African nation.

Prior to police action, cases of terrorism had increased in Nairobi, with the worst one being the Westgate Mall attack in September 2013, in which over 67 people were killed and more than 200 others injured.

The perpetrators of the vice and others that targeted hotels and public transport vehicles in Nairobi were traced back to Eastleigh. Kenya police moved into Eastleigh to dismantle the terror network.

The operation, which saw over 300 immigrants rounded up and deported back to Somalia, has been dubbed successful in the fight against terror.

However, it seriously affected trade, leaving Eastleigh a pale shadow of its former self as some of those deported were running businesses in the suburb.

It is about five months since the operation was concluded, and Eastleigh has sprung back to life. The suburb is once again bustling with humanity, and business is booming.

First Avenue, a major street, which was in ruin for long, has been tarmacked, giving the suburb a new look it yearns for as it struggles to shed off the terrorism bedrock tag.

Our scan of the suburb on Saturday of Oct. 11 starts on First Avenue. The street is littered with a sea of humanity consisting of traders, buyers, commuters and matatu operators.

One has to squeeze himself between the crowds that a few months ago had disappeared following the security operation.

Many things are up on sale. From shoes to clothes, fruits and utensils, and the traders know how to catch the attention of potential buyers.

While some are playing prerecorded messages of items they are selling on loud speakers, others are singing songs praising their wares and shouting prices.

Also read: Kimaiyo: No end in sight for Eastleigh terror swoops

It is tough competition among the businessmen as buyers in search of best bargains walk around, with their eyes and ears wide open.

"Get the best discount here. I will sell you two pairs of shoes at 7 dollars. I will also sell you dresses at the best price," a male trader desperately reaches out to three women.

His competitor engages in similar antics. Later, he springs from his stall and goes to engage directly with the women. He wins them over to the chagrin of his colleague.

While the traders selling items on the streets are native Kenyans, inside several shopping complexes along First Avenue and other roads, are Somali businessmen and women.

At Amal Plaza, one of the shopping complexes, that business is once again booming is not a secret. One can see several Somali traders engaging with buyers, mainly Kenyans.

However, things are not back to where they were before the police swoop. Several shops in the complex and others remain closed, with some of the owners having been deported, while others relocated to places they consider safer.

Traders are keen to put the "dark past" behind them and hope the terror attacks and the sting security operation would never happen again.

"We are back on track. People are once again flocking to Eastleigh to buy items," said Mohammed, a trader selling men's clothes.

Two female customers pop in and Mohammed greets them in Kikuyu. Though surprised of a Somali speaking a local language, they answer and soon the trio start to bargain the price of a shirt in Kikuyu.

Mohammed later says he has been forced to learn local languages to show people he is Kenyan.

"I come from Garissa in a village on the Kenya-Somali border. People think I am from Somalia, but I am a Kenyan. My friend was arrested and detained for several days because he could not speak Kiswahili or English," said Mohamed, who, besides Luo and Kikuyu, speaks Luhya and Maasai to reach out to his customers and assure anyone in doubt that he is Kenyan.

As many other traders in the suburb, he is hopeful that Eastleigh will recover fully, and reclaim its position as Nairobi's commercial hub.

 - Xinhua

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