July 17, 2012
Business owners, residents, clergy and security officials in Garissa say they will not be cowed by al-Shabaab's spate of recent terrorist attacks in Kenya's North Eastern Province.
"Such attacks can easily drive away investors and traders, especially those of us for whom Garissa is not our hometown. But no one is running away," said James Chege, who is originally from Central Province and now owns the Holiday Inn in Garissa, which was the target of a grenade attack in November 2011 that left two people dead and scores injured.
"I have been running my business here for more than four years," he told Sabahi. "This is where I provide for my family of four and I have no problem with anyone. I still get customers despite the attack."
Chege said the business community is sticking together and working closely with security forces.
"The police routinely advise us on security measures such as inspecting our customers with metal detectors," he said. "The customers co-operate because it is for everyone's good. We also have various police officers' mobile phone contacts to alert them about suspicious activities."
Being close to Somalia, North Eastern Province is an easy target for al-Shabaab to carry out attacks against civilians, aid workers and security personnel.
However, residents say the current security problems are nowhere near the banditry and tribal conflict in the 1990s that drove traders away.
Hussein Mohammed Adow, 45, a landlord in Garissa, said security forces and members of the community have worked together to restore peace. He expressed confidence that the al-Shabaab threat will be overcome with the same co-operation.
He told Sabahi that past insecurity contributed to underdevelopment of the region. After experiencing the benefits of peace, which has attracted more people for leisure and business, he said residents will not let anyone tamper with the tranquillity.
Adow said he recently received calls from three people in Nairobi and Central Province, enquiring about vacant business premises to start mobile phone shops. "They were all adamant that they want to play a part in further developing Garissa," he said.
Zachary Gitonga, 23, a recent graduate of Embu Medical Training College, told Sabahi that he applied for a laboratory technician job at a private hospital in Garissa two days after al-Shabaab's attacks on two churches on July 1st that killed 17 people and injured more than 60.
He said he will report promptly if his application is accepted. "I am aware of the threats by al-Shabaab, but that will not stop me if I land the job there," he said.
Director of Kenya's Chamber of Commerce and Industries in North Eastern Province Zeinab Sheikh Mohammed said the attacks have not affected business.
"Social places still fill to capacity with customers. Taxis, beggars, vendors and shopkeepers hustle late into the night. Mechanics, cobblers and masons report to work in defiance," she told Sabahi.
In addition, commercial hubs along Ngamia, Biashara and Miraa roads are busy selling electronics, foodstuffs, clothing and household items.
Retired major Bashir Hajji Abdullahi, who works as a security consultant and analyst in Kenya, told Sabahi said that al-Shabaab's attacks on worshippers are a dangerous trend, but the community and the authorities will overcome them. He said people's tenacity for economic survival has helped unite them against the al-Qaeda-affiliated group.
"Al-Shabaab is trying to push Christians and Muslims to sectarian violence to create a state of chaos for them to thrive on, but the industrious and boisterous people [of North Eastern Province] are not falling for that trap," he said, adding that when al-Shabaab chose to attack innocent worshippers, it lost any lingering sympathy.
People of all faiths in Garissa have united after the attacks on the Africa Inland Church and Catholic Central Cathedral, with Muslim clerics vowing vigilance in support of their Christian brothers.
Sheikh Abdullahi Salat, chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims in Garissa, said Muslims will form a human shield around the churches in Garissa while Christians worship.
"If the attackers want to kill our Christian brothers, they will have to kill the Muslims in the line of defence first," he told Sabahi. "The attacks on worshippers have only served to strengthen our resolve to live in harmony. The attackers will not stop people from their daily lives."
"We have to speak against such attacks because if Christian targets are exhausted, the militants will attack Muslims. Extremists have no permanent friends," he said.
Outgoing North Eastern Provincial Commissioner James ole Seriani said 10 of the 30 individuals detained after the attacks are in custody and undergoing investigation, adding that such terrorist attacks are motivated by something other than faith.
Seriani told Sabahi that despite the threats, the government will not impose a curfew. He said residents have been told to go on with their daily activities, while staying alert.
"The economy here is largely driven by the businesses that have no closing and opening hours," he said. "Imposing a curfew would play into the hands of the terrorists."
Armed security officers have been patrolling Garissa, taking up positions outside churches and other areas that al-Shabaab has threatened to attack, Seriani said.
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