Nine days ago, I was having lunch with a senior professional colleague at a mall in Nairobi’s Westlands when we heard some sound from the parking area.
It was the kind of sound that we CBD people hear from the coming together of two vehicles or a tyre burst on the streets every other day and continue with our lives as if nothing happened.
But I noticed that my colleague got very disturbed about it.
“What’s that?” he asked, looking nervously towards the window of the restaurant on the first floor.
He only resumed digging into the plate of meat in front of him after confirming there was no commotion downstairs.
It’s a shame I left Westlands without getting to know the source of that unwelcome sound that rudely disrupted our lunch. But the whole experience reminded me of the lurking danger of terrorism — the toughest national security challenge Kenya continues to contend with, but which most of us sometimes take for granted.
None, of course, understands this danger better than the folks who live, work or hang out in Westlands, the Nairobi suburb frequented by Westerners.
They bear the raw mental scars of two of Kenya’s worst terrorist attacks in the past five years.
The most recent one in January last year claimed 27 lives at DusitD2 Hotel.
In a similarly daring attack in September 2013, terrorists killed more than 60 at Westgate Mall.
Both attacks were claimed by the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorist group.
The Islamist militants continue to be active within the country, having killed three passengers in a bus hijack in Lamu only last week and blown off security vehicles with IEDs in northern Kenya in the past month.
In all likelihood, Al-Shabaab will pose an even greater national security threat to Kenya in 2020, emboldened by its resurgence in Somalia where it, in late December, staged a bomb attack on a Mogadishu security checkpoint, killing close to 100.
The early gains made by the AU mission in Somalia (Amisom) stabilisation force, including Kenyan troops, appear to have been undermined by the neighbouring country’s propensity for divisive clan politics and the involvement of Middle East powers vying to control its oil wealth and commerce.
Speculation has been rife that the latest deadly bomb attack in Mogadishu was sponsored by some of those Middle East countries.
What should worry Kenya even more are the prospects of Somalia drifting into the hostile neighbour column.
The two nations are currently locked in a maritime territorial dispute believed to be fuelled by external appetites for oil blocks in the Indian Ocean.
Signs are that many places in the world will be generally dangerous to live in 2020 after the killing of an Iranian general by Americans last week escalated tensions in the Middle East.
But for Kenyans, danger lurks much closer home.