Inside one of the re-opened dusitD2 Hotel restaurants in Nairobi’s 14 Riverside business complex, it is easy to forget the hail of bullets and grenades that rained on hapless guests and other office occupants just over two weeks ago.
Signs of the 18-hour long terror siege and elite security forces battle to rescue hundreds of people in the high-end complex lay hidden under fresh coats of paint and new sets of glass doors. Construction workers put the final touches of repair, a sign that the hotel’s management was ready to rise from the ashes and re-open for business.
The scene of the January 15 Al-Shabaab attack that killed 21 people and left many nursing gunshot wounds is awkwardly covered in peace and tranquility.
But to be sure that a similar attack will not happen again, security barrier boulders have been installed near the building’s entry, providing an impenetrable.
The low security barriers are presumably aimed at preventing vehicles from approaching the compound at high speeds and to help protect the complex against an attack by suicide bombers.
The complex has also adopted additional multiple layers of security details.
A Business Daily tour of the complex Thursday revealed signs that the former bustling complex in the upmarket suburb of Westlands is slowly coming back to life with an assured determination.
Already, some businesses have resumed operations in the six buildings that housed about 40 local and international companies.
Signs of normal life at the complex began to return as early as Monday, when company executives and workers at the complex began the long journey back to normalcy.
Among those who have returned to work is Mr Ronald Ng’eno, a communications officer with the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA).
Mr Ng’eno, 38, unwittingly became the poster boy of rescue efforts on the fateful night of the terror attack, thanks to his desperate pleas for help through social media.
With his Twitter updates, he attracted the sympathy of Kenyans following his constant updates of the harrowing situation inside one of the buildings that the terrorists had laid siege at.
The tweets went viral as the enormity of the attack sunk among Kenyans.
“If I die, I love the Lord and believe I will go to Heaven. Please, tell my family I love them; I love you Caleb, Mark and Carol,” Mr Ng’eno wrote at the time.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr Ng’eno broke into a big smile as he narrated his joy to be back at work.
“I am happy to be back at work,” he said as he showed the Business Daily crew how he hid inside a bathroom.
He said the swift rescue efforts by Kenyan security agencies saved his life and that of his colleagues.
He was grateful to Kenyans for the moral support they gave those affect during the attack.
“I was moved that thousands of people cared about our plight. I will forever cherish that,” he said, holding back tears.
“It is a testament that the terrorists cannot win against us as one people.”
Adjacent to Mr Ng’eno’s office complex where the CRA’s offices are located is the I&M Bank branch that bore the brunt of the attack as it is situated along the main entry of the complex.
I&M Bank relationship manager Vanshaj Dhingra Thursday moved about his office serving the clients who walked in.
“I am happy to be back home,” he said as he pointed at a newly-repaired glass door which was shattered by bullets on the day of the attack.
“I believe it is important not to let the perpetrators win by staying back at home,” he added.
In yet another building, the employees of French spirits group, Pernod Ricard, went about their duties normally.
Two bullet holes on the windows are a stark reminder of the tragic events of the day.
A defiant Predrag Amidzic, managing director of the sprits dealer that imports among others the Jameson brand, said he is undeterred by the setback.
“Showing up to work is the best attack or defense to the senseless terrorists,” says Mr Amidzic, a national of Montenegro, a Balkan country in Southeastern Europe on the Adriatic Sea.
On the day of the attack, Mr Amidzic rallied his staff to barricade themselves and prevent the terrorists from gaining entry into their offices. Police would later evacuate them safely, after the gunmen blasted their way into the complex.
Mr Amidzic said the Nairobi office of the French firm will stay put in the complex.
“We are here to stay,” he affirmed, adding that the response by Kenyan security agencies was swift and remarkable.
“The GSU response made sure we were not left to the mercy of the terrorists. They would have killed us like sitting ducks. This was exemplary and the country should have a standby force to respond to any such incidents,” he said.
Not far from his office, smartly-dressed employees of Qatar Airlines also went about their duties in their office.
The Business Daily learned that most companies have offered counselling services to their employees to help them deal with the trauma.
According to the management of the complex, about 20 of the close to 50 companies that operate from the hotel are already back.
“We have beefed up security and repaired most of the damaged areas,” said Mr Chirag Sanghrajka from the Dusit management.
He described the re-opening of the complex as “a win” for the victims of the attack.
“The longer you delay to open, the more you give satisfaction to the terrorists. But as a country we have to overcome this,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by Mr Joe Karago, another member of the management team who noted that all arms of the State including national and the Nairobi county government have been supportive in bringing back normalcy at the complex.
“The government has been action-oriented,” said Mr Karago. The two executives have, however, not forgotten about the horrors of the day.
“We understand that many employees will be confronting this. You look across the office and you see an empty seat of a colleague who died and it triggers all the memories back. But you can’t let the terrorists win by thinking about that. We have to stay the course”.
At the dusitD2 Hotel, the Business Daily team ordered a light lunch.
The sumptuous meal with an array of tempting salads laid out buffet-style, coupled with the quiet ambience of the hotel with its dramatic floor-to-ceiling window views of the outside gardens hides the scale of the attack.
Hotel staff said they were trying to confront the memories of the attack by providing their best service to guests.
Dusit Hotel lost six of its employees in the attack.
“We have to keep moving on and do what we do best,” a waiter who said she was not authorised to speak to media said.
For her, all she wanted was to ensure that every guest felt special.
Mr Sanghrajka said the resilience of the workers was a metaphor for the country’s battered, but defiant spirit.
“We are ready,” he said. It was evident.