Friday, October 11, 2013

By Alex Nderitu

On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when youth and pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
- Lord Byron (poet)

Kenyan teen sensation Camp Mulla have a song called ‘Party Don’t Stop!’ but if they were more news-conscious they would know that the parry stops pretty quickly when a grenade is lobbed into an entertainment spot or gunshots pierce the night.

Late megastar Michael Jackson once sung, ‘Blood is on the dance floor, blood is on the knife / Suzie got your number and Suzie does it right.’ Even before the Twin Towers went down and terrorism became a global issue, popular entertainment venues would sometimes screen arriving revellers, which in sheng was described as ‘kupigwa tero.’  The reason was because there had been sporadic cases of fights, usually between inebriated young men, some of which ended in knife stabbings and other injuries.

And then terrorism began to spread across the continents like wildfire.  In August 1998, the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in a synchronized attack believed to have been masterminded by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The Nairobi attack left 212 people dead, about 4,000 injured and property worth millions of dollars destroyed. And then, on September 11, 2001 - a day that will remain in infamy - hi-jacked planes were flown into the Twin Towers in New York City and another one towards the Pentagon in Washington DC, and the world hasn’t been the same since. Terrorism became a global issue, affecting business and travel across the globe. New legislation such as the Patriot Act in the US was formulated to help nip acts of terrorism in the bud.

In 2002, the Paradise Hotel, an Israeli-owned resort in Mombasa, was car-bombed, resulting in the death of thirteen people. Two surface-to-air missiles were also fired at an Israeli-owned plane. Luckily, the Strela 2 missiles missed their targets. The assailants fled the scene, leaving behind one missile launcher and two missile casings. A month later, the super-popular Tembo Disco in Mombasa (North Coast) was set on fire by suspected arsonists. The European-owned, makuti-roofed, Tembo Disco, which recently closed down, was the region’s biggest entertainment joint. Also known as the ‘House of Music’, it had an open-air disco with a capacity of three thousand, two barbeque restaurants, a billiard lounge, a beer garden, a GOGO (exotic dancers) bar and guest rooms. It was popular with both locals and tourists – especially Germans. At the height of its popularity, it would host up to three thousand pleasure seekers in a single night! Entrance was free for ladies before midnight. Its fortunes began to dwindle as numerous little pubs mushroomed all over the Coast, offering cheap beer and other incentives. The increased popularity of villas and cottages as entertainment venues also took market share from the discotheques.
A Strela 2 missile plus launcher  

On the morning of Thursday, 7th July 2005, three co-ordinated bombs went off in the famous London Underground (a mass-transit railway system), causing widespread damage and panic in the city. About an hour later, another bomb went off; this time on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. Total body count: 56, including the four suicide bombers (Hasib Hussain, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Germaine Lindsay and Shehzad Tanweer). Injured persons were approximately 700.

The 2007/2008 post-election violence was yet another blow to Kenya’s entertainment industry. The December holidays, coupled with New Year celebrations, are traditionally the most profitable periods for local entertainment acts. The outbreak of violence following the disputed 2007 election exercise caused numerous events to be cancelled and much revenue lost. Pubs, supermarkets and other businesses were also destroyed by protestors, especially in Mombasa and Kisumu, where property worth untold millions was either destroyed or looted.

Showbiz began to lose its lustre. The famous Mamba International Discotheque shut down (and has now been taken over by a new proprietor who is turning it into the country’s first-ever ‘gospel disco’!) In its heyday, the Mamba Disco had hosted such entertainers as Koffi Olomide, General Defao, Fally Ipupa and the legendary Kanda Bongoman. Announcing the closure of the joint, Tembo Investment Managing Director Walter Reif, posted the following message on Facebook:

Dear friends of TEMBO DISCO.
The Final Curtain has fallen and an era in Entertainment History has come to an end.
Those who attended the last party on Saturday experienced both .... a phantastic Dance Party and a very emotional Kwa Heri to Tembo Disco!
I was touched down deep inside my heart to see how many of the people attending showed their deepest emotions and sadness about the closing of Tembo.
Many tears were shed that evening by Friends of Tembo, Tembo Staff, Tembo Members and Tembo Patrons.
I would like to again thank You All for Your support throughout the last 16 years.
i will keep you updated about any further developments about a new place and hopefully very soon we can all meet again in a NEW TEMBO.
Until then LOLLIPOP MTWAPA remains in full operation ... 7 days a week from 9pm.
Walter L. Reif

Full Moon Night Club also got a total eclipse, deflating the hearts of many Diani-area pleasure seekers. It had entertained club-goers with many creative concepts, including Bikini Wrestling, Arm-Wrestling Contests, Beauty and the Beast Contests and Halloween Parties. Kenyan entertainers that performed at the joint include Wyre, Jaguar, Jua Cali and DJ Bunduki. The last ‘tweet’ sent from their Twitter account (@FullMoonDiani) on 12th August 2011 was about their ‘Bendover VS Get Down - G-String Edition’ event which was slated for 13th August 2011.
FEAR FACTOR: Writer Alex Nderitu surveys a nightclub at the height of the Al-Shabaab insurgency

As the new millennium wore on, international acts of terrorism continued sporadically, mostly in war zones like Iraq and Somalia. During the 2010 World Cup Finals, two bombs went off in clubs in Uganda as fans were watching the drama-filled confrontation between Spain and the Netherlands. One bomb explosion took place at a rugby club and the other at an Ethiopian restaurant. Together, the attacks took 76 lives. An unexploded suicide vest was discovered at a nearby disco, meaning that a third attack had been planned. Investigators believed that the attacks were carried out by the Al-Shabaab Somalia militant group which was said to have links with al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab also started making sporadic attacks inside Kenya, mostly around the common border with Somalia. Their repeated attacks and kidnappings put a serious dent in the tourism sector and became a top-priority national security issue. As the one-time Internal Security Minister John Michuki once said, ‘If you rattle a snake, you should be ready to be bitten (by it).’ The Al-Shabaab militants, who would later merge with al-Qaeda to strengthen their outfit, were ‘rattling’ the Kenyan military machine and it was just a matter of time before the Kenya Defence Forces struck back.

On 11th September 2011, British tourists Judith Tebbutt and her husband of 26 years, David Tebbutt, were attacked by Somali pirates shortly after they arrived at the secluded Kiwayu Safari Village resort, not far from the border. The attackers knocked her unconscious with the butt of a rifle. Her husband tried to fight off the attackers and was shot dead. Judith Tebbutt was loaded onto a motorboat and whisked away. The abductors released her seven months later, after her family paid a ransom.

On 1st October 2011, a pocket of Somali gunmen in a speedboat beached on the shores on Manda island and abducted a disabled Frenchwoman named Marie Dedieu. The nocturnal attack caused a fracas, with dogs started barking and people shouting. Two Kenyan coastguard vessels and a police chopper pursued the abductors and there was an exchange of fire but the villains managed to sneak back into Somalia with the victim.  A wheelchair-bound cancer survivor, Marie Dedieu, aged 66, died in captivity.

A few weeks later, Somali gunmen kidnapped two female Spanish aid workers and shot their driver at Dabaab refugee camp in northern Kenya. The abductees were working for Médecins sans Frontières which was assisting the refugees in the sprawling camp – the world’s largest. They were driven towards Somalia in a four-wheel drive vehicle.

On 16th October 2011, Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) crossed the border into Somalia in search of Al-Shabaab militants. It was dubbed ‘Operation Linda Nchi’ and had the backing of the Somali Transition Government who had also been harassed by the Islamist terrorist group. From the start, it was obvious that the Al-Shabaab militant group was no match for an entire country’s military might – what with Kenya’s ground, air and water capabilities – but in a war situation, you never underestimate your enemy. So when the rag-tag Al-Shabaab threatened to attack Nairobi’s skyscrapers, the threat was taken seriously but the military and police. Entering city buildings – be they office blocks, hotels, colleges or entertainment spots - became a nightmare. Often, you would be required to show your ID before entering an office block. Hand-held scanners became ubiquitous, often wielded by uniformed guards. There were so many scanners in the city that you could hear them pinging as you walked down the street. You had to be scanned just to enter a pizza place and even some matatus, such as the minibuses plying the South ‘B’ route. In clubs and discos, the old-fashioned ‘tero’ was no longer enough – you had to submit yourself to a body scan and your luggage to a minute examination before you enter the heng. You couldn’t even go through a building like the Hilton Hotel or Nakumatt Lifestyle as a shortcut without being screened. Many buildings in Nairobi city are also now equipped with CCTV cameras. Banks, ATMs, supermarkets and forex bureaus embraced closed-circuit television decades ago but now many retail shops, MPESA joints, cyber cafes, hotels and office buildings are using electronic surveillance. Some of them are courteous enough to let you know that you are being watched, with such notices as ‘THIS PROPERTY IS UNDER 24hr SURVEILLENCE’ and ‘SMILE, YOU’RE ON CCTV’ prominently displayed. But most don’t inform you – you just look up to see a camera looking back at you; or a black glass orb, like half an eggplant, hanging above the entrance to a lift. According to the website of ASIS Security Services - a Kenyan company that provides hand-held metal Detectors, CCTV Systems and other security equipment – their main clients are property managers, matatu saccos and institutions.

Nairobi Bus station where some mini-buses screen passengers before they board

As KDF’s military campaign proceeded, grenade attacks took place in Nairobi, Coast and North Eastern Kenya in retaliation.

On 24th October 2011, a Russian-made F1 grenade went off at the popular ‘Mwauras’ disco in Nairobi. 14 revellers were injured in the blast. It was followed by a second attack at a bus stop which killed one commuter and injured eight others. Police apprehended a suspect who later pleaded guilty to both attacks. He also confessed to being a member of the dreaded Al-Shabaab terrorist group. Responding to the attack, provincial police boss Anthony Kibuchi urged Kenyans to be vigilant and co-operate with the police in order to help curb such incidents.

On 16th May 2012, a gang of attackers tried to gain entry into club in Mombasa. When they realized that they couldn’t get past the security guards without being screened, they lobbed grenades at the entrance of the establishment and fled, one of them dropping a firearm in the process. The grenades killed a female bouncer and injured five other people.

RISKY BUSINESS: A matatu picks up passengers in a crowded street at night

In what was seen as an attempt to trigger a religious war, grenade attacks were also carried out against Catholic and African Inland churches in Garissa, not far from the Somali border. The attacks killed 17 people and injured over 60 others.

On 12th July 2012, Kenyan football lovers stayed away from clubs and other entertainment spots for the Euro 2012 finals, between Spain and Italy, for fear of explosions. Sport fans have over the past decade formed a culture of patronizing DSTV-subscribed clubs to watch big games in a community atmosphere.
Kencom bus station in central Nairobi

On August 28th 2012, 4 people were killed in separate attacks in Eastleigh. Eastleigh township is jocularly referred to as ‘Little Mogadishu’ for its high density of Somali immigrants.

On October 23rd 2012, 1 person was killed and 29 others were wounded when a grenade was lobbed at a Nairobi bus station at 8.00 PM in the night. Earlier the same day another grenade attack at a pub injured fourteen people. Survivors told of panic in the aftermath of the blasts.
A typical grenade

In view of the nationwide insecurity, Coast Matatu Owners Association boss Ben Murithi proposed that matatus should be equipped with metal detectors and to screen passengers. However, Matatu Welfare Association national secretary-general, Sammy Gitau, did not see this as a practical, long-term, solution because the cost of the devices is prohibitive to thousands of matatu owners. This was not the first time a proposal to increase matatu security had received mixed reactions. A couple of years ago, some stakeholders mooted the idea of photographing matatu passengers at the beginning of journeys so that if the vehicle was carjacked later, the survivors could point out which ‘passengers’ turned out to be ‘majambazi’. The problem with this plan was that matatus (especially in Nairobi) make numerous small stops to pick and drop passengers. You would have to be photographing people every few minutes, all day long.

KDF eventually routed the Al-Shabaab insurgents and seized control of their bastions, including the port city of Kismayu which was their final stronghold. As Kenyans began to celebrate their victory over the enemy, a child was killed in an explosion at St Polycarp ACK Church, along Juja Road. Instead of reducing, the fear of terror attacks actually increased! Al-Shabaab may have lost the battle, but they appeared determined to win the war. Following the unexpected attack, the police issued a controversial statement to the effect that landlords and hotel owners would be held responsible for any explosives or similar devices found on their premises. Hotels, motels and lodgings were to demand identification and inquire the mission of their lodgers. It was a poor decision by the police force as it appeared as admission that they were incapable of containing the Al-Shabaab threat and were now transferring the responsibility to civilians. Did they expect landlords to start making unexpected visits to their tenants, demanding to be shown every nook and cranny of their houses? Do landlords and hoteliers have any training or experience in law enforcement or security matters? Even if a stranger goes to a lodging or hotel with bad intentions, he’s not going to tell the desk clerk what those intentions are, so it would be futile for the desk clerk to ask. In any case, lodgings in Kenya are better known for clandestine sexual escapades than for terrorist activity, which would make motel, hotel and lodging owners uneasy about interrogating would-be lodgers. Picture, if you will, a drunken middle-aged man staggering up to a desk clerk at a downtown motel with his arm draped over an equally drunk miniskirt-clad twenty-something girl. The desk clerk opens his admissions book, grabs a biro pen and says, ‘May I inquire as to why you need a room?’ The drunk man stares at the clerk through an alcoholic haze, pulls his date closer into his body, and says, ‘What? Isn’t that obvious?’ The clerk politely defends himself by saying, ‘We are required to ask, Sir…It’s this terrorism thing.’ The customer smiles and says, ‘Well, I intend ‘‘fire some shots’’…and you might even hear some screaming…but believe me, I’m no terrorist!’

A after a decent interval, following Kenya’s crushing victory, the sporadic attacks resumed. On Sunday, 4th November 2012, a grenade went off in Garissa, killing an Administration Police officer.

On Tuesday, 6th November 2012, an improvised explosive device detonated in Nairobi’s crowded Eastleigh area, injuring 2 people and shattering the windows of a nearby matatu. The explosion was suspected to be the work of Al-Shabaab although no group has so far claimed responsibility.
Eastleigh township, where a series of explosions have taken place

In the bright, sunny, afternoon of November 18th 2012, a bomb ripped through a 25-seater matatu in Eastleigh, killing 7 people and injuring 29 others. A man of Somali origin who had disembarked the mini-bus just moments before the explosion was beaten to death by area residents. The matatu was reduced to a shell.

On January 16th 2013, 5 people were killed my militants in a restaurant in Garissa.

On April 18th 2013, another 6 people were shot dead in Kwa Chege hotel in Garissa.

And then on 21st September 2013, a bright Saturday afternoon, the prestigious Westgate mall in Westlands was stormed by well-armed and well-prepared Al-Qaeda-linked militants, who not only gunned down panicked shoppers but also held many others hostage inside the large building. This lead to a four-day gunfight that with Kenyan security forces, during which pistols, rifles, grenades and bazookas came into play. Eventually, the militants were captured or killed but the damage was unparalleled in recent memory. The terrorists had managed to kill over 60 people and injure over 170 others. Some have described this as incident as ‘Kenya’s 9/11’.

‘Panic! At The Disco’ is the name of an American rock band but in Kenya, that term is better suited to the issue of insecurity. As the sunlight dims on any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening, colourfully-dressed youths still gather in large numbers outside popular hangouts like Galileo Xtreme, Florida 2000 and Klub Bettyz, waiting to be screened so that they can gain the interior. But one can’t help think that under their youthful exuberance, under their visceral need to experience pleasure, under their determined faces and raging hormones, there lurks a fear.

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