September 21 marked a day of shock and confusion for many people in Kenya when news spread of an attack at the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi’s trendy Westlands neighborhood, an area frequented by many foreigners.
A total of 67 people were reportedly killed in the siege that lasted about four days. Terrorists tortured, killed and held hostages. The world watched in shock.
The Somalia-based terrorist group Al-Shabaab took credit for the massacre via its Twitter account, attributing the attack to the Kenyan occupancy of Somalia, where an estimated 4,000 troops have been stationed since 2011.
Nairobi police, government officials, aid organizations and citizens all worked around the clock to not only stop the attack, but to provide treatment and care for those injured.
As I read of this news, I was reminded of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings. I lived in Nairobi at that time and can vividly remember seeing bloody, damaged vehicles driving away from the affected area. Widespread panic and confusion was the norm for weeks.
I can only imagine the extent of what is going on today in Nairobi.
In situations like this, after much has settled down, the questions pour in: What happened and why?
Citizens and those affected begin to question not just the perpetrators, but also government officials, seeking to understand why this happened and what could have been done to stop it.
Kenyan authorities have been accused of ignoring forewarnings of the threat, though they have yet to publicly acknowledge or respond to such comments. But Kenya faces challenging times ahead. This attack and its aftermath have created a hypersensitive environment not only for Kenyan officials, but for citizens and residents alike.
There is fear and concern for Somali nationals living in Kenya, and rightfully so. The international community has given extensive support to Kenyan officials and the people of Kenya to move forward, but it will take time.
Recently I came across a Kenyan man who told me cheerfully, “Kenyans have always shown a strong spirit, and like all else, this too we will overcome.”
This left me with a slight sense of encouragement and confidence.