Westgate: Death, Destruction and Disappearing of Property

Damaged shops next to the main entrance of the Westgate Mall. [RUKMINI CALLIMACHI/AP]

Damaged shops next to the main entrance of the Westgate Mall. [RUKMINI CALLIMACHI/AP]

I was inside the Westgate mall on Sept. 30th and the day after, helping to clear out our branch store.

The place is in a mess.

Nakumatt is totally bazookaed. Burnt out, cratered in and looks like the U.S. marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983.

Bullet holes everywhere. In the walls, in the window glasses. At the Adidas Shop on the second floor, the black mannequins were shot in the crotch areas. In Onami Kitchen Bar, also on the second floor, there was a glass mysteriously sitting on a table. Something to do with Newton’s second law. There’s a bullet hole on one side of the glass and another on the exact opposite side. Bullet went through it fast and clean. The glass did not shatter. We were passing that glass around.

The mall is flooded with water. The sprinklers must have come on at some point. You have to walk in gumboots. Without gumboots you improvise. Like some of the other tenants, I put my booted feet into two Nakumatt plastic carrier bags and tied the handles around my shins. We were like moon men with blue and white plastic bags on our feet.

Then there is the gross and foul smell that emanated from Nakumatt. You know at once there are a lot of bodies buried inside the supermarket. But after half an hour or so you get used to it. You can’t smell it anymore.

There is food, clothes, blood, coins, papers and assorted electronic debris floating in the shallow waters on all floors. Glass pebbles everywhere. All the ATM’s have been blown apart. You can see their robot insides. On the ground floor, there are empty Tusker bottles all over the place. The man at Sir Henry’s showed me a spot on the floor at Dorman’s. Coagulated blood clumps all over. They look like stromatolites. He says he saw this guy being shot. Nobody has cleaned this place up. They have just let the water from the sprinklers blur the bloody catastrophe. Some of the tables at Dormans have leftover food on the plates. The pie counter is still filled with pies. And cakes. Houseflies everywhere. There are no lights working. No stima. I saw the whole place in cave-light.

Later on, the man from Sir Henry’s, another from Basic Intimates and I went into Art Cafe to talks to the guys there. The sunlight spills in better at Art Cafe. A man named Moshe showed us the bottles of Tusker and sprites on the tables. The Sir Henry’s guy says 150 suits were taken from his place. The Basic Intimates guy adds that his best boxers and almost all his g-strings were taken. Moshe tells us officers from the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) scooped out all the ice cream at Mamma Mia. Our patriots were cooling off in the heat of battle. There is just a thin melted sludge left inside the stainless-steel bowls at Mamma Mia. I tell them they must have crowbarred the cash register at my shop. All the Saturday takings gone. We speculate how much there was in all the tills. How much was the gathering? Fifty Million? One hundred million says Moshe in his Tel-Aviv drawl. Moshe says they were clever to take out the electricity.

No video ever recorded them in the act.

Later on I was supervising the loading of shop goods into the canter, parked at the main Westgate entrance. Two helmeted KDF soldiers man this entrance point. Then two other non-helmeted KDF soldiers came. One was holding a black bag. He put the black bag in between the two helmeted soldiers. The four of them saw me looking at them, so one of them moved in between the two helmeted fellows, trying to block my view of the bag. But I could see it. They took out wallet after wallet from the black bag. They took out phones which they quickly put into their pockets. The KDF army uniform has many pockets. I guess the act of Nazis picking out the gold teeth and jewelry and stuff from dead people is also a Kenyan practice. And the KDF guys looked young and happy. It’s like they had just come out of the house after having a hearty meal.

Back inside, the normal Administrative Police (AP) officers were shamelessly poking into the already cleaned out shelves at the Samsung shop. Trying not to be left out. Armed and uniformed parking boys scavenging. They saw us looking at them but they didn’t care. They knew we were just toothless moon men.

Before you can enter Westgate, you have to sign a form. They have a booth at Ukay. This form states that anything that happens to you inside Westgate is not the responsibility of the Kenyan government or KDF, etc. For example, you can be shot or robbed by KDF whilst inside the “crime Scene” at Westgate and it’s your problem. You have signed and accepted. And each tenant is allocated one AP or KDF or General Service Unit (GSU) guy when going inside. Of course, these guys just disappear once they have escorted you inside.

The lady soldier designated to guard our shop came only when we were closing and she said she is now going and stood there waiting for me to do something. Like buy her chicken maybe.

Plus, the rules on the form state you have to stick to your shop. No roaming around the mall. But there was nothing like that. I roamed and roamed. I came across other KDF soldiers on the way and they didn’t bother with me. I could enter any shop I wanted. And I did. If I wanted, I could have stolen anything I wanted. It was an open affair for everyone. I even went into the Rado shop where there was nothing. And I admit, I hoped there might be one watch left for a toothless moon man like me, the writer with cash flow problems. And I would have taken a watch if I had seen one. We are probably all just the same. KDF and me. Maybe the terrorists gave us what we deserved.

Back on the second floor I got a chance to walk to the upstairs parking area. Where you can see how big the crater into Nakumatt is. It’s big. Burnt out shells of cars below. Rocks and concrete. Long concrete slabs. The whole bombed out imagination down there. The cooking competition area still intact, corn oil and sauces and plates still on the table. Two cars still looking okey marooned at the edge of the caving in. It will take a crane to take those cars out.

There was nobody around. Nice warm sunshine, and, of course, lots of bright light. A silent and lonesome place.

Mehul Gohil is a Kenyan writer and can be reached at: mehul.j.gohil@gmail.com

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  • Imran Abdi

    The writer in disguise as a “toothless moon man” suggests that he would have engaged in the virtue less acts that happened in Westgate. Where has the ethical values of our society vanished to?Or do we not envisage the spirit of our constitution on the right to private property.No one is perfect and this is Sad just Sad.The epitome characteristic of the Kenyan society has reached a point whereby in times of tragedy scavengers are up and running stealing and looting(inclusive of the government).

    • Al Kags

      But this is the thing. we are all the same – the looting KDF men and women are us. After all is said and done, we most likely would have raided that Rado shop. Sigh.

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  • Jay Boss Rubin

    Nice work, Mehul. Tell it like you see it.

  • hiohio

    a platoon of looters.lord have mercy

  • JoeK

    Spot on Mehul. @Imran, please get the sarcasm dude!

  • Georgina Goodwin

    Brilliantly written thank you for sharing this valuable information. Having this truth in the archives of Westgate may, just may, bring us closer to being more honest Kenyans, in fact more honest HUMAN BEINGS.

  • Robertooz

    Thank You Mehul,candid narration of the post-westgate situation,shame one Imran couldn’t get the sarcasm!

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  • Nyambura Ndung’u

    Awesome article Mehul. Indeed, quite disturbing is the whole ordeal and the typical ‘every Man for himself and God for us all’ mentality.

  • Gay African

    I can see how regular folks could succumb to looting BUT, the people in uniform are supposed to be working and abiding by professional standards. They were in a battle zone for crying out loud, it was a “siege”! It is no wonder the terrorists escaped. Did you see anybody who was running for their lives after the initial attack looting?

  • http://about.me/danielwaweru Daniel Waweru

    Nice one, Mehul.

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