In late September 2013, a group of Al-Shabab terrorists entered the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya and opened fire on its patrons. The siege lasted about four days leaving at least seventy people dead, including women and children. In the aftermath of the Westgate Mall attack, the question, “Why a mall?” remains.
At first glance, it appeared that the attackers chose the mall because white patrons frequently visit it. However, pictures and video from the attack that later surfaced show that a variety of people were caught in the crossfire. Whether the terrorists knew it or not, the importance of malls in Africa and the very different roles they have in society as compared to those in the United States, create a security hazard that may be breached in the future.
By the year 2025, more than half of Africa’s population will live in cities, nearly a 25% percent increase from thirty years before. Africa has the fastest growing middle class in the world, and the retail industry is developing rapidly as a result. As investment shifts from natural resources, plans to build malls in Africa to meet retail demand are growing as well. Currently, about fifty mega malls are expected to be built by one South African development company.
Malls play an important role in modern African cities because they act as an epicenter for socioeconomic development. In surrounding communities, class separations are evident through gates and barbed wire that divide the rich and poor. As malls in America are characterized by some as centers of economic conformism, African malls create an opportunity for a diverse assembly of people to engage in activities and behavior that they may not normally be comfortable with due to the more traditional views of the areas.
The difference between African and American malls can also be seen in their interior characteristics. Generally, malls in Africa are much cleaner than American malls and elaborately decorated. Compared to the surrounding environments, these malls offer patrons the feeling of entering a new world. As African citizens continue to become more sophisticated and technologically advanced, the elaborately designed atmospheres in these malls provide a break from issues that plague many different areas of the continent such as rough public infrastructure, internal government conflicts and the mark of dire poverty.
The increase in mega mall development in Africa will enhance infrastructure and give people a glimpse of an innovative and developed African dream. However, the Westgate Mall attack may result in a boost in security precautions at malls all over Africa, and patrons may find it difficult to find an escape in the mall from harsh realities that exist outside their walls.
– Daren Gottlieb
Sources: PolicyMic New Republic