The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 41

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
JULY-AUGUST 2014
41
In the shock and tragedy of the terrorist attack, the outpouring of charity from
Kenyans toward all those affected demonstrated the power of the “Kenyan Spirit.”
BY JOASH OMOND I
T
he upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi,
Kenya, burst into international head-
lines on Sept. 21, 2013, when uniden-
tified gunmen launched a three-day
siege of the shopping center that left
at least 67 dead and more than 175
wounded. All attackers were report-
edly killed in the mass shooting, later
claimed by the Somalia-based Islamist
group Al-Shabaab.
While people around the world decried the seemingly inexo-
rable spread of terrorism, Kenyans were forced to come to terms
with its reality in a new way. During the two years leading up to
“Westgate,” they preferred not to acknowledge the threat of funda-
mentalist forces in the region.
When Kenyan troops had invaded neighboring Somalia in
October 2011, the public exhibited varied reactions. The process
of troop deployment met with little resistance from any of the
arms of government. A spate of kidnappings of aid workers on the
WESTGATE:
THE OTHER NAIROBI
AND THE FUTURE
OF KENYA
Joash Omondi is a journalism student at the United States International
University in Nairobi.
Kenyan border seemed to add fuel to the fire—though, in truth,
the kidnappings may have been carried out by any of the cartels
operating from inside Somalia, not necessarily al-Shabaab.
It was also often argued that the Kenyan troops were unsea-
soned and inexperienced, and that the military was eager to
demonstrate otherwise. The approval and financial backing of
Western allies had added momentum to the operation, which was
named “Operation Linda Nchi,” Swahili for “protect the nation.”
The official justification was that by invading Somalia we were
protecting ourselves.
Some believed we had a responsibility to help stabilize our
lawless neighbor. Others saw the invasion as a knee-jerk reaction
to the kidnapping of a few tourists and foreign aid workers, an
event that didn’t deserve a full-scale military assault. Though most
Kenyans recognized that we were now “in it,” and there was no
turning back, they were slow to grasp the implications.
Despite the deadly attacks by al-Shabaab in Kampala the previ-
ous year, which killed 74 and injured many others when a bomb
went off in the middle of a crowd, few Kenyans anticipated such
an eventuality on their soil. The last attack was the deadly 1998 al-
Qaida bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, the worst terrorist
attack in our country’s history.
FEATURE
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