Gated Cities: Nairobi, Mumbai and Matt Damon’s Elysium*


One month after discussing the relationship between Canada’s National Security and healthy communities I visited Nairobi and Mumbai affording frontline views of living with the war against global terrorism in contrast to Canada’s community peace of mind (CPOM).

My Nairobi taxi driver said it is a thirty-minute drive from the airport to the hotel but with rush hour traffic it will take a little longer. Two hours later we turned into the driveway of the Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel and we were greeted by UK PA68 ‘drop arm’ terrorist barrier. My driver, being acquainted with the security guards, passed through with minimum formalities. Entering the hotel I was subjected to an airport style security system with baggage X-ray, electronic archway and magnetic wand waving security guards. During an introductory briefing I was instructed not to take any pictures of police or soldiers carrying guns, people who look like political dignitaries or their cars, or government buildings, which included the Canadian embassy.

The process of entering the hotel was repeated each time we visited a shopping mall. Visits to banks were greeted by a cadre of security guards and police personnel carrying AK47s. Visiting the City Cathedral I was challenged by magnetic wand waving security guards. It was explained that all places of worship employ security practices. Friends visiting my hotel had to establish their identity and their car went through a detailed bomb seeking inspection of mirrors looking at the underside of their vehicle, hood lifted and back opened. Similar security procedures were used when visiting buildings or tourist sites around the city.

The Memorial Park, where once there was the US Embassy in central Nairobi, serves as a reminder of August 7th 1989. Moving around the city one inevitably passes close to the Westgate Mall and is reminded of the August 2013 terrorism takeover of the city. Kenya was repeatedly described as a country surrounded by less stable states: Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda. Spillovers involving terrorism and refugees are inevitable given the tribal relationships existing prior to the geopolitical colonial borders that assign sovereignty rights to each country.

Kenya’s vibrant democracy was evident in public debate about MPs’ monthly salaries of 1.2 million Shillings (CND $15,464.00)/month when the average salary is 151,406 Shillings (CND $1,950)/month. While it is acknowledged that ideological extremists from Al-Shabaab and Al Qaeda are present, it was noted the Kenyan army on duty in Somalia behaved in a non-professional manner thereby inciting reprisal. Drawing a line in the sand of social values, the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, is on record as stating, “We have freedom to worship, but I want to make one point very clear. No religious institution, be it Christian, Islam or Hindu will be allowed to be used as a centre for recruiting or radicalizing youth.”

The drive from the airport to the hotel in Mumbai, in stark contrast to Nairobi, involved considerable risks to expedite the journey, a feature of driving on the lawless roads of India. All other aspects of life in Mumbai reflected the security procedures in place in Nairobi. Mumbai hotels make the entry culturally sensitive by separating the sexes, which sometime adds confusion. There was little letup in security checks visiting iconic parts of the city; I wondered what Mahatma Gandhi would say if he saw the security procedures required to visit his Bombay abode?

Mumbai seems more adjusted to its 2008 terrorist attack; some hotel security arrangements are quite elegant. New visa/passport regulations and immigration requirements for entry to India suggests a strategy that supports a “gated country;” I was frequently reminded the enemy resides next door. My tour of Mumbai included standing at the bay where the 2008 attackers came ashore and looking at the open sea in the direction of Karachi, Pakistan. Discussing the national security of India with Indians, there was agreement that a nation with corrupt police and military makes maritime security and national defence somewhat redundant.

The depressing part of visiting both cities is hearing young people with so much potential expressing a state of despair over not having hope for future advancement. Both national cohorts of young people blame their fate on generations of corrupt politicians. History shows that medieval taxation paradigms, where lords and barons live rich life at the expense of peasants, lead to civil strife and crime. The political and business elites in Nairobi and Mumbai seek comfort by retreating to their gated communities, which by some accounts are not 100% secure. The view from this frontline is that the original security continuum needs further refinement.

Flying from Nairobi to Mumbai I watched Matt Damon’s movie “Elysium,” depicting the ultimate gated community in the year 2154, where society’s, predominantly Caucasian elites reside on a luxurious space habitat and where gender equality is absolute. The “not-rich” human beings survive in communities that look similar to un-gated parts of Nairobi and Mumbai in 2014. From observations I made at airports and hotel breakfast sessions, Caucasian dominance and equality of the sexes may be the most far stretched parts of Matt’s movie; the technological gimmickry is all doable.

Certainly a CPOM was evident on Elysium. Critical commentary in the post 9/11 era was that Hollywood did not conceive such a scenario. Perhaps Matt’s Elysium provides the scenario of how global extreme terrorist are replaced by global extreme rich, albeit the Caucasian variety.

[*Moderator's Note: This post was originally received on 04 March but has been delayed due to technical difficulties. We apologize to the author for the delay.]

Tim Lynch is a Toronto based freelance journalist who writes about maritime security. His email address is tim@infolynk.ca