DECEMBER 31, 1980. August 7, 1998. November 28, 2002. These three dates have something in common: terror in one African country. On these dates, terrorists inflicted on Kenya a diabolic fury that left death and destruction in its trail. The 1980 terrorist attack was targeted at the Norfolk hotel, a five-star hotel owned by the late Jack Block, an Israeli citizen. Sixteen people died while more than one hundred were injured. In 1998, the terrorists targeted the US Embassy in Nairobi. Some 258 people died: 246 Kenyans and 12 Americans. And most recently in November 2002, terrorists struck again, this time, their target being the Paradise Hotel along Kenya's serene coast. This hotel was also Israeli-owned and was frequented by Israeli tourists. Here 16 people died and over 80 were injured in this heartless attack. Thus the tears continue as unanswered questions abound.
August 7, 1998, 10 a.m.: Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, have woken up to a humid morning. Opposite the American Embassy in Nairobi, public transportation mini-buses, popularly known as matatu, honk their amplified horns, blare loud music and rev their engines as they jostle for passengers. Suddenly, a loud boom interrupts the morning hullabaloo. Split seconds later another thunderous boom descends upon the entire city. Awinja, a medical student at a local university stares unbelievingly as the fort-like American Embassy building collapses before her very eyes. Behind it, Ufundi Co-operative, another building is razed to the ground. Days later as the dust attempts to settle down, 258 people are confirmed dead. The funeral announcement of one of the Kenyan victims reads thus: 'cause of death not being alive'. The distraught mother of the slain young man said disconsolately at his funeral, 'I don't know who to blame for my son's death. I don't know whether to heap blame on the Americans for their foreign policy, or to blame Osama for his outrageous terror antics, or to blame my government ... I just don't know'.
In the aftermath of the embassy bombing, Kenyans struggled in vain to answer the question, 'why?' They speculated as their government probed, cried as their continent sighed and groaned as the world mourned. It did not help matters that, in some Western circles, their tragedy seemed reduced to a case study on American foreign policy, especially regarding the Middle East and its implications. But how exactly did Kenyans expect America in particular and the world at large to react?
'We will divert every resource at our command to the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network'. These words were part of President Bush's speech to the US Congress on September 20, 2001, in the week after the terrorists had struck New York and Washington. They also embody the response that Kenyans expected to the earlier terrorist bombing. It was an expectation that was founded in the utter grief and anger of their experience. An expectation that was justified by NATO Charter with its declaration that 'an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us'. Yet this expectation soon melted in the brutal realization that Kenya was not a major concern of NATO and the great powers. It was neither a strategic partner nor a key ally. Hence an attack on Kenya was just that--an attack on Kenya. This fact became fertile ground for isolationism to have a field day.
When terrorism's diabolic blow struck America on September 11, 2001, it pushed Kenyans right down memory lane. They viewed 9-11 through the lens of 8-7 and shuddered. True to the adage, the wearer of the shoe knows where it pinches most, they …