Reader beware: this is one of those posts where my thoughts maybe a bit of a mish-mash.
September 21,2013 was a regular Saturday . I attended the morning service at my local church. Thereafter everyone seemed to be in good mood, sharing about their long week at work and school, why they did not attend a certain mission or complaining about VAT. I was planning on having lunch with a friend and probably head back to church in the afternoon or do a visitation.
Well, that was before we got to know that Westgate Mall in Westlands was under siege. We kept on asking each other, “Why now?” Nairobi had just returned to what was seemingly normal after the JKIA fire that basically displayed to the whole world, our poor disaster management strategies and our other vulnerabilities. Seriously, it can’t get any worse than firemen appearing at the fire scene with buckets of water…
I felt like I was watching an unfolding scene from CSI or 24 . These things just do not happen in Kenya. We always hear of bombings or hostage situations in the Middle East or in westernized countries where the situations are handled by the Feds with sophisticated artillery and snipers who have the orders: shoot to kill. From the live broadcast aired by local TV stations, we saw that our police were armed with weapons that looked like they had been imported from the 1970s.
My friend soon found out that her colleague’s wife and son were among the hostages at Westgate mall. For the next two hours, we sat at a restaurant wondering what to do next. We had since confirmed that our close family and relatives were safe, we were a bit more at ease. Uneasily eating our chips masala, we discussed the various causes of the hostage situation , with my friend constantly checking her phone waiting for any news.
Our fears were finally confirmed later in the evening that this was an Al-Shabaab terrorist attack. We had thought that we had handled them with the war on piracy but it seems that they had time to re-group and re-strategize.
The attack came at a time when we least expected. Everyone is focused on the ICC Hague trials especially after hearing the first witness against Deputy President William Ruto and the former radio presenter, Joshua Sang. Please do not forget the implementation of the VAT bill that seems to be having Kenyans burning candles on both ends. Our parliamentarians are anything but inspirational between coffees (pun intended) and walk-outs, I think their hands are pretty full at the moment. Further, Westgate seemed to be an unlikely target since it is located in the affluent suburbs of Westlands and is frequented by mostly Indian-Kenyans, expatriates and the upper middle class.
This whole situation took me back to the 1997 bombing. Then, I was ten years old, naïve to fully comprehend what was going on. I knew that Osama bin Laden was a bad man and there was too much blood on television. Few weeks later, I learnt that my father had missed his morning appointment at Co-operative Bank House and my aunt had not attended her class that was located at Ufundi co-operative building (now August 7th Memorial Park).
Now, I have to grapple with thousands of questions about human psychology especially revolving crimes against humanity. Reading voraciously about the Holocaust ( books such as The Book Thief and Nazi Women) for the past couple of years has not brought me closer to understanding brainwashing and being losing one’s humanity. Living through the 2007/8 post-election violence was not only painful as a Kenyan but also mind-boggling. I have been blessed to have grown up in a multicultural setting. I have always picked my companions not because they are correctly pronounce “r” or “l” or because they say “Jones” instead of “ Chones”. I have had Muslim friends, teachers and colleagues . Infact, my current residential area has circa 70% people of Cushitic origin who profess Islam. We have always lived in harmony and if ever there were arguments, they were purely based on issues at hand. It has always been about value addition. I am yet to find out what actually snaps inside a person that makes them thirst for human blood. The same blood that runs, through their very own veins.
Since this is an ongoing event, I do not think I can make any more comments without substantial facts. Kenyans have shown their solidarity by donating blood and other necessities for those in need. I hope that the Muslim community will be at the forefront in preaching peace and preventing islamophobia.
I pray that the terrorists will come to their senses and do what is morally right by releasing innocent people back to their loved ones.