My uncle is a teacher, who lives in Nairobi. He and his son, my cousin Bonnie, live on the outskirts of the city and the Westgate Shopping Mall is somewhere they regularly visit at weekends. My uncle is visiting the UK at the moment, but Bonnie had not come with him.
On Saturday, Bonnie was in a bank on the second floor of the Westgate Shopping Mall when he heard the commotion outside. Within seconds he was knocked to the ground by the blast from a grenade. Outside, a group of heavily armed gunmen began raining bullets on shoppers and staff alike. As Bonnie and the other assembled civilians watched, people were gunned down in the hallways and the nearby shops as the terrorists passed by.
Bonnie found his way out of the mall, escaping through a fire exit at the bottom of some back-stairs. Like many others, his lucky escape was due to the sheer size of the mall and the terrorists’ inability to block every exit. But for countless others (estimates of the death-toll currently range between 67 and 137), their demise was due solely to the bold tenacity of a group of extremists strolling into a crowded public place and firing indiscriminately at people of all ages, races and genders. Though they reportedly allowed assembled Muslims to leave unharmed, no one was saved the terror they inflicted on their victims and survivors alike. This scar will live on, long before their cause has been forgotten.
How long will it take Bonnie to recover from what he described as “that horrific scene”? My uncle has since said that were he not in the UK at the moment, he would more than likely have been in the Westgate Shopping Mall last Saturday. If he were there, would he and Bonnie have been in a more visible place? Would they have been in the line of fire? Would my family have been touched even deeper by these terrorists?
I guess what everyone who is affected by a terrorist attack asks themselves, how did this “world-issue” suddenly become my issue? Wars, famines, bombs, discord; we see this on the news every day, but suddenly it is now a part of our lives. 9/11, the London bombings, Madrid, Bali; Al Qaeda and their agenda was thrust upon people in the West who had never even thought about fatwas, or jihads, before. Before last Saturday, did I know that there was an issue between Al Shabab and Kenya because of the occupation of Somalia by Kenyan troops? No, I didn’t. In that way, terrorism has achieved its goal. We’re all sitting up now. We now know the agenda of Al Shabbab.
Kenya declared three days of national mourning for the tragedy, while my own family give thanks that this time we were lucky. Bonnie survived a bloodbath perpetrated by people against whom he held no vendetta, or had any bad feeling toward. He, like all Kenyans now, will want revenge and recompense for what they endured. This attack, against civilians on friendly soil, will create a deep and lasting rift between the two countries. Much can be said against the pitfalls of bureaucracy and diplomacy, but what has terrorism ever actually achieved?
It seems obvious to state, but those who died in Nairobi last weekend were senseless casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. The world’s attention is on East Africa now, but what could Al Shabab have expected? The UN and the West will now wholly support Kenya and its quest for peace and justice. Somalia can only expect further, and much heavier, occupation, while the War On Terror seeks to disarm this newly visible terrorist cell. I don’t understand how Al Shabab could even have believed their own agenda behind the attack, because surely now they will just be torn apart and dissolved by a united international military response? Their organisation has taken centre stage for now, but it won’t be long before it won’t even exist anymore. Was there any point to the attack in Nairobi? For anyone? Absolutely not. Which makes this massive death toll all the more abhorrent.
Nairobi still seems a long way from my home in Manchester, but the events last weekend have certainly driven home to me that people all over the world are affected by tragedies of this scale. I look back on 7/7, which was before I knew anyone who lived or worked in London, or I think about the Manchester bomb in 1997 and realise the ramifications on my life were they to happen again today; terrorism actually isn't as far away as we would like to think. And then you hear about foiled plots, thwarted by MI5 or the CIA. Just imagine how scarier a place the world would be, how many lives could have been lost if we didn't have these security forces. I'm not one for conspiracy theories and living in fear of what could happen, but it makes you think, doesn't it?