By Denise Calnan, in Mombasa
At the time of my travelling to Kenya, it was just a few weeks after the brutal terror attack on Garissa University on April 2 of this year.
Despite assuring friends and family that this attack took place 400km ‘as the crow flies’ north of where I would be staying in Mombasa, you could understand people’s concern.
After all, the majority of the western world’s governments have put a travel advisory in place against travelling to Mombasa on Kenya’s east coast and to parts of the capital Nairobi, both under the constant threat of terrorism.
Standing on the Nyali Bridge looking out along the creek towards the sea, it was hard to believe how such a beautiful place could live under such an ugly threat.
A small beach opposite the hotel played host to what seemed to be a 24/7 soccer game between young boys – the thump of a hard kick of the ball was as routine a sound at 6am as it was after dinner in the evening.
Crowds of people walked along the wide bridge behind me, four lanes of traffic bustled by and even a small herd of cows trundled along in the steady heat.
The crowded bridge is the main entrance into Mombasa town from the north of the creek; 15-year-old plans to build another entry point to the centre a kilometre up the river have been consistently ‘put off’ by a local businessman with power and, needless to say, money.
But behind these everyday scenes is the fear of another deadly terror attack.
The fear has penetrated itself into all corners of the Kenyan community and beyond.
Hotels are empty, security guards stand at every gate into every shopping mall, supermarket and guest house, cars and bags are regularly checked and the once popular urban centre of Mombasa is void of happy snappers.
The Indian Ocean coastal town used to be a hotspot for honeymoons with the southern beaches of Kenya described as ‘paradise’ and the largest national park in Africa, the Serengeti, rated highly for safari trips in neighbouring Tanzania.
But now is the time to stay in a five-star beachfront villa, one local told me, because the rates are the cheapest they’ve ever been. Game park reserves in the area have also reported a sudden decline in safari tourism.
Staff at the hotel I stayed in, just a few minutes from the centre of Mombasa town, set more than 20 tables for breakfast each morning but less than a handful were occupied.
Tourists have been cancelling their trips after Islamic extremists killed 148 people on the Garissa University campus 200km from the Somalia border on April 2 this year.
Somalia-based militant terror group Al-Shabaab, which is aligned with al-Qa’ida, has claimed responsibility for the massacre.
The merciless attack saw 148 college students ambushed by terrorists as they walked through the campus to attend an early morning mass or to catch a few hours of study before classes began.
The mass slaughter was the biggest the East African country suffered since the Westgate Mall three-day siege which killed 67 in September 2013. And the Kenyan people are now living in fear of another attack.
The majority of the daily newspapers focus on the terror threat, some articles more bizarre than others.
‘Up your game on security’ the front of ‘Daily Nation’ newspaper shouted one morning as bishops pleaded with president Uhuru Kenyatta to bolster security in churches and religious institutions.
Then, inside the newspaper, an article on how women in Northern Kenya were ‘feeling the love’ from their other halves, as the government-set curfew meant men were curbing their social life to be at home earlier in the evenings.
On a more serious note, local media also reported on how a student died on the Kikuyu campus of Nairobi University last month after a terrorist scare was sparked by exploding faulty electricity cables.
More than 100 others were injured in the stampede. Some terrified students jumped from windows during the early morning incident.
Universities have since called for paramilitary training so students can defend themselves if faced with an attack.
And the Government say they will increase money for the police and military in the next budget.
Promises of safety are being made, but it seems that locals living in fear have yet to be convinced.
Denise Calnan travelled to Kenya with the support of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on the use of technology in education in Kenya. The first of her articles was published in the Irish Independent on 23rd May, with other pieces to be published over the coming weeks.