21st September 2013. 12:35 PM. One new Facebook inbox that reads
“Dude, stay away from Westie, a gunfight is going on. I’ll tell you as soon as I have more news. Spread word.”
At the time I’m in a school bus full of teenage students and almost everyone has gotten some form of this warning. We wonder what could be wrong. What is going on in Westlands? Is everybody Safe? Do we have it under control? Word soon filters in that there is a hostage situation at the Westgate mall. At this point I’m convinced it’s a rumour. Kenyans do not watch that much T.V. and furthermore, no Kenyan robber would be daft enough to try robbing Westgate! It’s always so full and crowded. There is security everywhere, where would you run to?
By now phones are ringing everywhere. Frantic mothers, Fathers, Brothers and Sisters are on the line. “Where are you? Sevens? Where Is that? Actually no, don’t explain, I want you home in an hour or I’m coming to get you. And stay away from the malls!” This state of panic grips Kenya for well over 12 hours. The only information they have received in the early hours of the crisis are gory pictures splashed on the national news either by editors bent on ensuring ratings are sky high or overly eager to clarify just how serious the situation is.
It is now 9am, 23rd September 2013. Word has come out that this was not a foiled robbery attempt but a terrorist attack. Gunmen stormed the mall guns blazing. Shots were fired at customers in Artcaffe, a popular restaurant, always full. Shots were fired at shoppers on the first floor, shoppers the second floor, shoppers outside in the parking lot. Shots were fired at innocent men, women and children who had no part in the war these terrorists claim to be fighting in. Innocent Kenyans that had gone to Westgate to shop, eat, watch a movie, and meet friends, to finally go on that date they’d been planning for weeks(though as any Kenyan knows, Saturday morning at Westgate would be counterproductive for a date, you cannot hear him/her over the din). Kenyans who were doing their thing as they always do, minding their own business but smiling at the whole world at the same time.
As it is, 68 Kenyans are dead and 175 injured. Some are calling it the worst attack on Kenyan soil since the American Embassy blast on 7th August 1997, one the average Kenyan teenager probably does not remember. As it is with every terrorist attack in the region; The Kampala coach bombing, The World Cup Bombing in Kampala, they have struck at a time and place no one expected. Struck at targets that could not fight back, or protect themselves and their loved ones because they had no idea what was going on. 68 dead, among them children. Each one of them was someone’s mother or father or sister or father. Many of them were the breadwinners of their families. A few of them were the darlings of their families, the ones on whose shoulders hope for a better future rested. One of them was a Kenyan Heroine, an expectant mother, a lady whose voice made the news on radio scintillating. I wonder what the news beat on Kiss FM and X FM will sound without her…
As a Kenyan and a human being I mourn these deaths. I cannot begin to imagine what their loved ones are going through. I weep for the injured in Nairobi hospitals. I pray for the state of the country, thankful that we have shown our generosity and selflessness as a nation and Hopeful that we will rise above this as we have risen above many tragedies that have struck our beloved land and that we shall rise above this as one.
And to the perpetrators of this heinous act; did you feel powerful as you put on your masks? Did you feel powerful shooting at the fleeing backs of scared Kenyans, Killing 68 of them and injuring 175 of them? Did you feel like you achieved something when you wrenched families apart, when you robbed Kenyans of their loved ones? Has this cruel action achieved what you wanted it to?
The shootings at Westgate are not a tribal issue or a religious issue. They are an issue of right and wrong. Reports so far indicate that the Al Shabab claim responsibility for the act. I do not know any Al Shabab members; I do not know what they believe and I do not know why they have chosen to act in this manner. I do know however that no religion in the world posits the fact that innocent men, women and children should be exposed to death and injury in retribution for perceived wrongs. A tweet from a handle that is allegedly operated by the evil men and women behind this organisation says that they will not negotiate, retreat or surrender. To that I say, Kenyans will not and will never negotiate with cowards that have to wear masks and shoot people in the back, That these cowards are cornered in Westgate and have nowhere to retreat to and that the option of surrender is all they have left, and that door is closing with the steady takeover The Kenyan Defence Forces and The Kenya Police have carried out in Westgate.
Today is the 2nd of October 2013. On the 24th of September His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, The President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed forces of Kenya declared Westgate as having been completely taken over by the KDF. The terrorists had been defeated. It’s been about a week since then. Kenyans, though in mourning, have rallied together in an expression of unity and generosity that they themselves cannot explain. Some camped at the Oshwal Centre and fed survivors and KDF soldiers during the siege. Many came forward and donated blood for the injured, so many in fact, blood banks now hold reserves at an all-time high. Even more rose millions on M-Pesa to cater for costs incurred during the attack, be it paying for medical and counselling services or funeral costs. All of them have declared that THEY ARE ONE, forgetting divisions of tribe, race and financial status. Divisions that these cowards tried to deepen in order to weaken Kenya, they must be cursing the fact that if anything, their actions seem to have strengthened our land and our people.
God has always looked over Kenya and Blessed Kenya. We know that he is with us through these trying times. And it is his strength that will heal the wounds that this tragedy has caused.
John Nakholi (19)
A proud Kenyan