This month as the US and the world mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, I look at the impact of an event which took place three years before that fateful day in Nairobi, Kenya.
The exact date was August 7, 1998, when suicide bombers drove a truck full of explosives to the compound of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. The bomb blast ended the lives of 257 people, injured over 5,000 and forever changed the views and perceptions of many Kenyans.
I remember that day very well as I was not far from the blast. Back then I was in high school and August 7th was the last day of our school term calender. The time was around 10:00am local time and at that moment the school chaplain was about to say a prayer when the vibration from the blast shattered the windows of the hall. I recall the feeling expressed on the faces of students and teachers alike: the vibration was so shocking everyone at first thought it was an earthquake. As we were part of St John’s Cadet Starehe Chapter, we rushed to the nearby hospital to help by giving first aid to the victims. The horror at the site, the suffering and pain of the victims, was too much for many of us to bear.
Thirteen years after August 7th, the impact of the Nairobi bomb – both at the social and economic level – is still acutely felt. Most of the businesses located in the area of the blast were forced to relocate or simply went bankrupt. It has been estimated that more than 250 SMEs were either completely destroyed or suffered such huge losses that they were eventually forced to shut down.
It was bad enough for the businesses but it is the surviving victims that have faced the biggest nightmare. Through to today they have continued to pose challenges to both the Kenyan and US governments and are demanding over one million dollars for each of the survivors and families of those who lost their lives.
To avoid a direct confrontation with the Bomb Blast Victims Association, the Kenyan government and US embassy officials each year have skipped the event normally held at the Bomb Blast Memorial Park on August 7th to commemorate the attack. Every year sees a renewed call for compensation but the US government has been reluctant to compensate the victims.
And talking about the Memorial Park, I took a walk there to see what is the latest development. The site has been transformed with monuments, gardens and trees and there is a giant granite memorial wall inscribed with the names of the dead including 12 Americans.