Kenya Kwanza

nairobi

It had been a fairly quiet morning, an excellent setting for intense work on my MBA thesis titled The Crippling Burden of Sovereign Debt. As I always did when working or studying, I had the television on with the volume turned down slightly. Sitting on the living room carpet, legs crossed, surrounded by numerous open books and reports, my research papers all over the place and with a strong, sweet mug of piping hot black coffee in my hand I heard the children on the afternoon BBC children’s show announce that they had breaking news from East Africa. I had never seen this happen before on a children’s show, it must be really serious I thought. I put my mug of coffee down, sat up and added the volume.

With a bustling house full of energetic children it was never easy getting out in the morning but as always Sally did it with style, with the help of her husband John of course. Sally made the best mandazi’s in town and after putting the bulk of them in an attractive bowl for the family, she packed a few for the office and rushed off to beat the early morning traffic. Working at UN offices in the Kenyatta International Conference Centre was a pleasant experience and Sally always enjoyed some peace a quite during her tea break. On this lovely morning as she sat in a lounge enjoying her sweet mandazis, crunchy on the outside and soft as butter on the inside, with a hot cup of kienyeji Kenyan tea in her hand, she jumped up startled as she heard a horrifying bang! Shaking with terror, tea spilt and mandazi half eaten, she ran back into her office to find out what was going on…

It was going to be a hectic day but finally Joseph was armed with all his papers and the clock was ticking. He had received a scholarship from the prestigious US University, MIT. The truth is Joseph was a genius. He received first class honors in Architecture but his ideas were too revolutionary for Kenya. His buildings received international accolades but were not being built. He was fed up and he was broke. He decided to expand his horizons and his girlfriend Cathy stood by him throughout. Now that he was going to the US he was not about to leave her behind – after a few days of planning he rushed her to Sheria House in Nairobi and with a handful of family members present they were married before the Registrar. The following day he was headed to the US embassy in the Nairobi Central Business District to hand in their visa applications. The matatu he was traveling in was just a few minutes away from Haile Selassie Avenue when they heard what seemed to be a huge explosion. Bang! The ground shook, the van lifted off the road then crashed back down coming to a screeching halt.  Along with all the other passengers he scrambled out of the vehicle. Alarmed and confused he tried to get his bearings – all the traffic had come to a standstill and others were exiting their cars too. There were wails and screams in the near distance and a strange smoke was billowing through the streets…

It was the morning of August 7th 1998…

“This is the BBC with Breaking News from East Africa: A bomb has exploded at the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. The blast that occured at 10.30 am has also destroyed the five story office block located next to the Embassy. Hundreds are reported to be injured… And we are receiving more news… Another attack has taken place, at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania… Footage from Nairobi shows horrifying scenes of destruction… The death toll is now reported to be in the hundreds… thousands are injured… People are flocking the scene to help move the rubble… Many are stuck under the debris…”

The day went by in a blur… I was glued to the TV screen, my work and papers forgotten. Seated on the carpet in a foetal position with my hands wrapped around my legs, tears streaming down my face, I prayed as I watched my fellow countrymen endure one of the worst terror attacks in recent history.

The news reached the office fast, the US embassy had been bombed. Sally started to make frantic calls, to her husband, her brothers and sisters, “Where are you?”
“Are you ok?” “Did you hear what happened? Lord help us!” After ascertaining that they were are well, she went on her knees to pray for all those affected. “Dear Lord, please save our country from those who wish to destroy it…”

Joseph could not believe it, the US Embassy had been bombed. If he was just a few minutes earlier he would have been inside the building! Some people were rushing towards the site, but numbed by his close call he walked to the other side of town, got into a matatu and headed home.

Over 250 people lost their lives in the Nairobi attack, some put the figure at close to 300. 12 are reported to have died in Dar es Salaam. Thousands were injured. People of all tribes, races, religions, genders, ages. At the site of the former US embassy now stand a bomb blast memorial centre and park, a haven of peace in the bustling central business district. On a memorial plaque are the names of those who lost their lives and in the midst of all the names are these words…

May the innocent victims of this tragic event rest in the knowledge that it has strengthened our resolve to work for a world in which man is able to live alongside his brother in peace. ~August 7 1998~

Sally and her husband John are well. They are retired now, their children have grown and have all left home. She continues to go on her knees ever day to pray for Kenya. Joseph is one of Africa’s executive giants. From MIT he was recruited into banking and today heads the Africa operations for a huge global investment bank. He channels much of his energy into projects that can transform Kenya. He and Carol have a growing family, two children so far. As for me, I am in the world of media, and I have just been made a peace ambassador for Kenya Kwanza, a campaign to unite the country. I am a wife and mother and I am determined to ensure that Kenyans rise above the hatred and intolerance that many have been taught to embrace and instead see ourselves for what we really are – stronger and richer for all the diversity that we have been blessed with.

I wonder, where were you that day? And what would you be willing to do to build a united and strong Kenya?

Afro-optimist * Wife * Mother * Child of God TV Host * Writer * Producer * Entrepreneur * Philanthropist

23 Comments on "Kenya Kwanza"

  1. Collins Mwendwa says:

    A masterpiece I must say, were not born by that time yet. However, I can feel and imagine the pain and desperation that Kenyans went through, May the souls of the victims rest in peace. It’s rather absurd that Kenyans still don’t learn to unite after such eventualities. Together we stand, as Kenyans. Kudos Julie!

  2. joy ndinda says:

    May we all learn the importance of unity.A lovely piece Julie.

  3. Wanjiku says:

    I was in class five. It was the last day of the second term. School was dismissed early courtesy of the breaking news. When my siblings and I got home we realized we had misplaced the keys to the house and we had to sit outside till our parents came back from work. It was a long wait, intoned with hunger pangs and anxiety. Then the sad news began trickling in…that day is forever etched in my memory.

  4. Lynn says:

    I was in high school , form three…We had traveled from Nakuru, Lanet to perform at the KICC music festival. I remember the numbing explosion, the screams, the confusion. I had forgotten it all, but your story took me back. How often we forget to appreciate the meaning of life and living. Time stopped for those 250, yet we forge on….

  5. ngatts says:

    I always remember the day. I’d just drove by the US embassy with my mom as we always did less than 10min before. I remember the day and thank God for His grace to allow me and my mom to make it to this day, and to say a silent prayer for those whose lives changed forever. Nice piece Julie.

  6. mercy says:

    I was near the ambassador waiting for a bus to Gikomba. Was hawking bed covers as i tamarced ie looked for a job even then with my degree.Then i heard the bang scared to the core. With confusion all around we held hands with a stranger and crossed the road to Tom Mboya street.I wish you all the best as you play this role. I would do anything to bring peace. I pray everyday for Kenya. Be blessed

  7. stephen says:

    i heard all that over the radio since i was shagz n i was abit young,immideately a vanacular song was released n dats hw i learned da ordeal.i hate t n i love peace n let all b peace ambassadors

  8. Walter Tarus says:

    Thank you Julie for the great article.Am really touched.Thumbs up for being our peace Ambassodor.

  9. Franco says:

    Julie i was young but these story reminds me wt i saw 2day on youtube how pple slaughted a man during PEV n dead pple in mogue i pray kitu kama hiyo never 2 happen am willing 2 change coz change start with mi

  10. Ngotho Ndung'u says:

    Hi Julie,
    Thanx Julie 4 this piece.It’s interesting that you wrote this article at this time for tha whole of last week the August 7th Bomb Blast has been ringing through my mind after watching a NatGeo documentary of the fateful incident.Back then I was just a young class one boy who did not know much;all I remember was “watu wakubwa”around me talking of a bomb like the ones we see in movies have killed innocent people (not members of tribe x or y,rich or poor but Kenyans)in our country.I also heard of a brave ROSE who fought for her life beneath the debris for several days.May God rest her soul in eternal peace alongside other unsung heroes and sheroes who by their lives an indelible mark was left in our hearts:that terrorism posed a real danger to all of us.
    Acts of terror perpetrated by outsiders or by us on us-cowardly actions of terror to instill fear or our agrieved selves when we lack tolerance and respect for the rule of law.
    Let embrace one another,respect each others diverse opinions and seek amicable avenues to solve our disputes.War has never solved a thing.Since the beginning of time to the world wars.It all ends up sitting round a table and talking issues.Kenya and by extension the world is ours,there is enough for everyone but our greed,stereotypes and intolerance convinces us otherwise.
    Julie you have been presented with an honourable and challenging task:to be aPEACE AMBASSADOR.You are equal to the challenge.That I know for you speak and many listen;we listen to you.Speak in a voice of reason and surely we shall follow.That we take Kenya back to where it belongs:a haven of peace! From there we develop it to the Kenya we want contrary 2the Kenya we have .
    We all have a role to play but it is funny how we ought to point fingers instead .From being vigilant in our enronment to shunning tribalism ,reporting suspects to law enforcers ,installing a friendly and credible police unit that carries thorough investigation and a quick, just and fair judiciary.More interesting is that if a voice shakes us to our senses and reasoning we are sure to wake up from this stupor of negative ethnicity,intolerance and violence.Go for it Julie and the rest of the lead team of peace ambassadors for we are all ambassadors in one way or another.Blessings…!!!!

  11. Karewa says:

    We must rise above hate and embrace one another as brothers and sisters. This has really moved me.. truly inspirational.

  12. ERIC MULEI says:

    communicating such a lethal event in the coolest way ever shows how “rich”Gichuru is in the journalism ministry,yet i don’t see people who recognise her in terms of awards and honours…i wonder!

  13. Thanks for the touching feedback guys, together we will rise, divided we all fall. May you all be blessed abundantly in all that you do, may we all be peace ambassadors in our spheres of influence. @Eric… Thanks for your thoughts, love that you love the story :o) while we should never do anything for recognition I am thankful that I have received numerous awards. One day I’ll tell you about them :) Blessings, love and light great people!

  14. Thanx 4 the reminder,Julie. Well, at that time I was so young to understand anything,but at least intelligent enough to learn that a terrible thing had occured. I have never stopped wondering why some members of the human race are so inhumane to cause such physical,mental and psychological agony to their fellows through such atrocities. The irony is that,knowing too well that Kenya is a hotspot and target of terror acts,Kenyans themselves are divided! How possibly can a house marred by division overpower an enemy? it is difficult if not impractical.

  15. Kenyans ought to stand together,join hands in the fight against ills(need I mention them?)that paint our country,their religion,race,tribe,gender, social status,political gamble and/or any other factor notwithstanding. No enemy would risk attempting to cause steers among a people whose power is built in a concrete foundation of unity and togetherness. I pay tribute to all victims of terror attacks!

  16. Evans kip says:

    Thanks Julie for inspiring piece. Actually, at that time I was young but I was so shocked to see my mum shed tears. It was a rare occassion since I had never seen it before. When I inquired, I got shocking news…’ our people have been killed’. It was so painful to learn that innocent Kenyans working to earn a living had been killed. This is inhumane act that it is still conducted globally. I wonder, what do these people feel after such act? What are their heart made of? We should come out strongily against such atrocities.

  17. Colly says:

    great inspiration i was very young this fateful day when the cloud of sorrow fell over our nation. it is also very amazing how people turned out in large numbers to lend a hand, no tribe no difference. we r one great unique people. God had a good reason to put us all in Kenya and i believe it was for us to live together, to love one another, help each other out. the bottom line PEACE IS PARAMOUNT. Julie you are capable.

  18. Jessie Height says:

    Love changes everything, to have peace,love MUST intervene.
    thanks for this Julie, hadn’t seen it earlier, but it’s never late.
    keep doing what your doing with passion, if you don’t, probably no one will do it like you would. I was young, but one thing I know for sure, it’s an incident that should never happen!!!EVER!!! great work

  19. pheebzs says:

    Brilliant piece of writing Julie .i was in class one then and we watched the event unfold in the television with my family.in this year of election i might not be appointed as the peace ambassador but i will play that role like i was the one appointed.

  20. Kenrique says:

    Truly heartfelt a memoir, that day brought all Kenyans to their knees and ALL the tribes were KENYAN. . .

  21. Wambui says:

    “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix
    It’s been 14 years and I still remember the tears, pain, and confusion of that day and the days that followed. People out to inflict pain will always be there, but the peace-loving ones will always outnumber them. If only we take up our rightful role as God’s peace ambassadors here on earth. Thanks Julie for showing us the way – keep flying the banner high!

  22. Nathan Njoroge says:

    Hi Julie, in Class 8 then, but vividly remember the day. It was something unheard of in Kenya then but the sad reality is that the day marked the beginning of what seems to be the order of the day in Kenya. But thanks to the almighty that though bombings have been taking place, the magnitude has never being like that of August 7, 1998. i however congratulate you for the great effort you are employing to see that we unite as Kenyans. We love you and may God continue to give us insights on how we can best utilize what he has given us to unite humanity. Kenya Moja

  23. Virginia says:

    nice piece…on that day i was a class one student and it was closing day at our school.My mum at the time was working at the US Embassy,but luckily or fortunately she’d been sent to SA by her boss for some training..she was a last minute substitution,her boss was to have gone instead(he died in the blast sadly)so i shudder to think that i could have lost my mum that day..May God rest their souls in peace..and comfort and strengthen their families..

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