Some of the victims of the 1998 US Embassy bombing at the memorial park on Aug 7, 2019. Photo/JOSEPH MURAYA.
At the end of it, the disgruntled survivors were given two packets of biscuits and a bottle of water.
They all arrived with sad memories of that dark morning of August 7, 1998 when a powerful blast set up by terrorists ripped off Cooperative House on Haile Sellasie in central Nairobi, killing 213 people, including 11 Americans. Of these 2 were Central Intelligence Agency employees.
The bomb set off from a mini truck that drove into the basement of the building was targeting the US Embassy, in a coordinated attack that also occurred in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital killing 11 people.
On Wednesday, about 50 survivors gathered at the August 7 memorial park, where they condemned both the US and Kenyan governments of neglecting them, 21 years on.
“God, why did this happen to me? Do I have to suffer all my life?” an elderly lady in her late 60s, said wailing, as she stared at the named of the dead scribbled on the memorial plaque—a stark reminder of Kenya’s darkest day. She was too emotional to grant an interview to this reporter who interviewed other survivors like 62-year-old Beatrice Nduta.
Recalling events of that fateful morning, Nduta said she was the last on the queue of people going to apply for a US visa at the Embassy, when hell broke loose.
“There was the first and second explosion…” she recalled, narrating as if it happened yesterday, “ I can still hear that glass-shattering noise after the blast. It was so powerful and shocking.”
Nduta would be hospitalised for almost two months at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), having suffered multiple injuries on her right leg, back and head.
“I cannot stand well due to the back injuries. I also walk while limping,” Nduta said, wiping out tears, “I also developed high blood pressure which is weighing down on me.”
Like many other victims, Nduta said they are yet to receive compensation they were promised, 21 years on. “There has been no help forthcoming to date,” she said.
On Wednesday, there was no representative from the government or the US government to address them or mark the anniversary with them.
It was on Tuesday when US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, visited the site and laid a wreath, declaring “terrorists will not manage to cause divisions among Kenyans and between the two countries.”
More than 10 journalists present were not given a chance to ask questions.
Survivors who spoke to us on Wednesday wondered why they are always left alone on a crucial day like this.
“Imagine the pain we are going through only for us to come and find no representative from our Government or at least the Americans. Is it that we no longer matter to them?” 72-year-old Esther Wamwea wondered, “They should have come and at least lie to us, instead of leaving us alone like orphans.”
They have religiously marked the day, which they said rekindles sad memories and brings more tears to their lives, because majority of them are aged and ailing, faced with the high cost of living.
But there were several portraits, that of the US Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter, President Donald Trump and his predecessors.
But it was Osama Bin Laden’s large portrait that captured the attention of many.
Soon after the attack, America’s Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) blamed bin Laden for masterminding the deadly attack, in what was believed to be a revenge for US involvement in the extradition, and alleged torture of four members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) who had been arrested in Albania for an alleged series of murders in Egypt.
Bin Laden, the founder of the notorious Al Qaeda terror network, was eventually tracked down and killed by US Navy SEALS on May 2, 2011 after he was also accused of masterminding the September 11 attacks in the US.
At the commemorative stone bearing the names of those who died, an aged woman could be seen rolling on the floor, while crying.
While the American citizens who survived the attack were compensated, Nduta said “our Government neglected us. The US Government neglected us too. We are left to die slowly due to poor health and stress.”
“It is not that we love money, we need something to help us at our old age. We have become a burden to our children, who also have needs to take care of,” she said.
Survivor after another shared a similar story, detailing how they were left to struggle with medical bills to date, some even listing the various health complications they ail from, following the 1998 attack.
Mary Mwikali, 61, and Alice Sambiri, 57, said they were working in an adjacent building when the deadly attack occurred.
Both were fired on medical grounds and on this day, they said “it is a day of our reunion.”
Sambiri, a mother of five, has never recovered from the trauma, she said.
“I can’t stand a loud bang. I also don’t want to narrate what I saw, which is still clear in my mind,” she said.
Also present was Johnson Mureithi, a former Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldier- who participated in the rescue mission.
Mureithi left the force while holding the rank of a Chief Warrant officer-paratrooper.
“The Government should listen to the cries of those who survived. Most of them are old, they just want something to keep them going,” Mureithi, who donned military fatigue, said.
At the time of the attack, he was at the Defence headquarters in Nairobi.
“It was a scary scenery. I almost lost my mind,” he said.
–Did David Hale avoid survivors? –
The survivors took issue with the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, who laid a wreath on Tuesday at the memorial park, a day to the commemoration.
They wondered why he chose a day before August 7, to honour those who perished.
“The US does not care about those who survived, yet all the American citizens were handsomely compensated,” a visibly agitated Nduta said.
“Americans are very good to their own. But are they not the one who preach about human rights?” she posed.
Her sentiments were shared by some 10 survivors who spoke to us.
“They are wondering why the Embassy didn’t even send a representative to mark this day,” 7th August US Embassy Bomb Blast Victims Association chairperson Ali Mwandama said.
According to Mwandama, Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti should initiate an investigation to establish those who benefitted from the money released by the US Government, if any, and whether it was embezzled.
The survivors are also seeking audience with President Uhuru Kenyatta, in a bid to air their grievances and expectations.
–US commitment to help Kenya fight terror-
On Tuesday, Bale said the United States will continue supporting Kenya in enhancing maritime surveillance, countering violent extremism and fighting terrorism.
US forces have been active in launching airstrikes in Somalia where Kenyan forces under the umbrella of AMISOM are fighting Al Shabaab terrorists.
“Their immediate purpose was to kill and destroy, but they had a bigger agenda, and that was to divide Kenya and America, to undermine our friendship and the values that we hold dear, freedom, justice and peace,” Hale said, emphasizing that “They failed then, just like terrorists continue to fail in their objectives today. They did not and will not separate America and Kenya.”
Despite the militants being extensively weakened, they have launched pockets of attacks within and out of Somalia, with Kenya paying the heaviest price partly due to a porous border between the two countries.
Some 21 years after the deadly attack, terrorists have targeted Kenya’s high-end facilities including institutions of higher learning and shopping malls, killing hundreds of people.
They have also resorted to the use of Improvised Explosive Devices, to target security officers manning boarder towns like Mandera.