With all the cameras, the barriers, the metal detectors, the patdowns, do we feel safer?

Saturday January 19 2019

metal detector

A prisons chief walks through a metal detector at a prison in Nyeri, central Kenya. With all the cameras, the barriers, the metal detectors, the pat downs, do we feel safer? FILE PHOTO | NMG 

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Writing anything this week has been difficult, the writer’s block as stubborn as a mule, but I don’t blame my mind freeze… Something dreadful just happened.

To the families that lost their loved ones, my condolences. For those who went through the traumatic ordeal, I cannot imagine what they are going through and how they are coping.

Kenya has experienced too many terror attacks; indeed, for my age, I have seen too many. That day I received a message from a niece, she is about to turn 10. She was so scared of what she saw on the television she was asking me for advice on how to cope. What should she do? And at that moment, a buried memory suddenly surfaced, as I had a flashback to the moment I was about her age.

In 1998, I was in the exact same shoes. I was outside playing in the backyard when I heard a loud bang, a sound I will never forget and on television, I could not understand what was happening.

Over 20 years later and what have we grown to become? Before going to a destination, there are normally certain questions that you ask yourself; Is there a fee for parking if I drive? Is there some sort of construction on the way there, traffic, what time would I have to leave the house? These are the questions that make sense as you plan your excursions.

Going anywhere in Nairobi, several factors have to come into play before you can decide on venue, and some questions are unique to us in the region, such as, does it have more than one exit? How good is the security there?

Many locations in the city have what feels like too much security at the entrance and sometimes, we even feel irritated when the security guard has to check our bags.

Most times, it feels like such a routine, shoving your bag to the side before you go through the metal detector has become second nature.

But what are the security guards looking for? And would they know what it looks like when it is found? And if they found something, what would they do?

Forget privacy when it comes to women’s handbags, that sense of privacy is out of the window. With all the cameras, the barriers, the metal detectors, the pat downs, do we feel safer?

There are people who avoid certain places because it is too much of a hassle to get in. Seeing flashing lights that could instigate an epileptic episode has become an everyday norm, we are used to the lights. These, as we have been told, are for our own security, this is what keeps us safe.

On that particular day, online, the conversations that were swirling for hours were around, what do we tell our children? They are watching people coming out of the complex in sheer terror. How do you explain what is happening and why? How do you explain that it can happen anytime and anywhere?

Local media tried to be sensitive to the situation, and did not transmit gory images, but a foreign media house published images of shot victims. People were so angry that a petition was formed to ask them to remove the image from their publication.

Many people were questioning whether if it were another country, in America or Europe, would those very images be published and distributed?

Begging the question as to whether how terror attacks are reported is dependent on region.

So many people are asking questions about why we have to lose lives. Is this because our troops are in Somalia? Should we start having conversations about removing them, would that make a difference? Should the government focus on opportunities for young people so fewer of them join extremist groups? How can we protect ourselves even more? Is it even possible?

This is a different type of gun violence; in the US there are regular calls for more gun control when such massacres happen (all too frequently, sadly.)

But what can we suggest to make Kenya safer? Amid all the gloom, heroic men and women were seen doing what they could to rescue as many people as possible. In another 20 years, I hope it will not be my niece speaking to her niece who will be asking for advice about the same situation.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW