Academic journal article The Journal of Government Financial Management

Starting from Nothing: Rebuilding the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya

Academic journal article The Journal of Government Financial Management

Starting from Nothing: Rebuilding the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya

Article excerpt

As I was about to begin a tour of duty as the senior financial officer for the American Embassy Nairobi, Kenya, two huge truck bombs shattered the Friday morning peace on August 7, 1998 in downtown Nairobi and Dar es Salaam,Tanzania. In an instant, 224 people died, and more than 4,500 were hurt.Your fate was determined by whether you had taken the day off, gone to the medical unit in the basement, left your office to cash a check, or sat down to answer a telephone. My son and I were lucky. We had delayed our travel in Europe for two days. I arrived to start my new assignment the day after the bombing.

Restoring the Financial Management Center (FMC) in Nairobi was an immense undertaking in terms of rebuilding the bricks and mortar of the building and recreating the accounting systems. Establishing budgetary control and chasing the required funding was a huge challenge. But that was actually the easy part.

It pales in comparison to the loss of staff. The Embassy lost 47 people and 416 years of experience that day. And it is impossible to fathom what it must have been like for the survivors to come back to work, with so many of the people they had spent 10 and 20 and 25 years sitting next to, gone in an instant. The loss of colleagues is something no one can understand, emotionally or professionally, unless it happens to you. Unfortunately, since I first drafted this article, many more Americans now know this pain.

The Initial Shock

The extent of the damage was not clear to me until I landed and took a taxi to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) building in the Nairobi suburbs, bags in hand. It was early morning Saturday, the day after the bombing; the tension and stress within the building was potent. Managing passage through several security checkpoints, I found the control room-it was then that it first hit me. Listed in columns on a flip chart were the names of the deceased, injured, missing and living. Phones were ringing everywhere, directions being issued, information passed; no one was shouting, but there were way too many people doing way too much for the room's size. But as they all moved quickly about me, I read the lists and the noise faded. these were people I knew... in all the columns.

The Damage

I learned that six of my Kenyan employees had been killed, along with my American deputy; another two Kenyans had been airlifted to Germany. Of an 18person staff, seven were dead and two were injured.

About three weeks after the bombing, a woman came in to pay her telephone bill. I explained that we weren't really set up to collect bill payments yet, that our cashier had been killed. She insisted and handed me a check, and I looked down to see the name ofa woman who had lost both her husband and son in the bombing, wanting to pay her telephone bill.

The Nairobi FMC services about 18 diverse federal agencies, from the Centers for Disease Control to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from the Army's Medical Research Unit to the Library of Congress. It provides allotment-level budgeting and accounting, voucher processing and certifying, and Class B cashiering services. Our financial processing is done at our Paris Regional Financial Service Center (PFSC), where the U.S. Department of State's two U.S. Disbursing Officers (USDOs) reside. We forward telegraphically and through our own closed intranet the transmittals that result in allotment obligations and payment instructions based on vouchers that are certified locally. The office also assisted other posts in the region.

In addition to the Paris USDOs issuing payments and managing local bank accounts for each country, the Paris FSC maintains the official accounting and budgeting records for diplomatic posts throughout Europe, Africa and much of the Middle East. This structure effectively put many of our records in a constant backup, offsite storage situation. While we lost all the voucher documentation and the endless documentation that supports accounting records and budget executions, we still had our official records as of the day of the bombing. …

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