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Sunday, 8 August, 1999, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Kenya's bitter lesson

Reconstructive surgery helps heal the physical scars
Kenya Broadcasting Corporation presenter Esther Muoso reflects on the lessons to be learnt from the Nairobi bomb blast on 7 August 1998.

The cries and groans from the bombing in central Nairobi have never faded from the ears and eyes of Kenyans.


The site of the US embassy, the spectacular bell-bottom house that was Co-operative Plaza and the Ufundi house remains an eerie and somewhat ghostly place. It will now be home to a monument built in honour of the 213 dead and the thousands injured and left with indelible scars.

Many of those affected have struggled to get on with their lives.

While many have received some compensation ranging from about $500 for light injuries to about $11,000 for loss of life, it is not enough for those unable to work, or for families that lost bread winners.

Disaster preparedness

The disaster exposed Kenya's utter weakness in disaster preparedness and management.


The emotional scars will remain
As hundreds trapped in the debris called out for help, the government was ill prepared to offer any.

There were no bulldozers needed to lift heavy boulders, tools like chisels or even an ordinary torch were unavailable. It was a shocking yet painful reality.

It took the heroic efforts of ordinary Kenyans tearing apart the rubble with bare hands to pull out victims, offer first aid and rush thousands to hospital.

Much thanks was owed to the Israeli rescue team in helping unearth survivors and bodies.

They even brought their own sniffer dogs, despite Kenyans always seeing the country's police and armed forces parading their own sniffer dogs at celebrations.

US-Kenyan tension

US secretary for State Madeleine Albright lays a wreath
Kenyans accused the US of doing little to help the injured at the time
The Israeli and Kenyan rescue crews were joined from the US by a large team of FBI investigators and Marines. They were searching for evidence on the scene and guarding the vehicle used by the bombers.

This drew the American forces and the Kenyan public into a collision path as arguments arose over the balance needed between saving life and solving crime.

The event triggered an emotional fall out with the United States for two reasons:

  • The US forces disregarded Kenyans when they descended on their bomb-damaged embassy.

  • The US only seemed to care for the 12 of their own who had been killed in the blast.

Turning point

As Kenyans have been left to pick up the pieces from the dark day a year ago, so they have learnt that as a member of the international community they are prone to international terrorism.

Many Kenyans see the event as a turning point for them, both as a people and within the international family.

We were wronged, unjustly attacked and left to bear the burden of sins we did not commit.

The question remains unanswered - what sin did Kenyans commit to deserve to bear the brunt of terrorism?

Most believe Kenya was turned into a sacrificial lamb simply for being friends with the US.

The US has offered nearly $2.5bn for compensation and reconstruction. They have at the same time committed $11bn dollars for enhancement of security at their various diplomatic posts in the world.

One hopes more will be invested in follow up assistance for the victims.

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See also:

06 Aug 99 | Africa
Picking up the pieces
10 Aug 98 | Africa
The story in pictures
09 Aug 98 | Africa
Eyewitnesses tell their story
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