My transition to Kenya has coincided with the nation being thrust into the headlines: on Saturday, a bustling shopping mall in Nairobi, my destination, was seized by al-Shabab militia (a Somali Islamist group), and men, women and children alike subjected to great terror. After the main onslaught, a stand-off between the terrorists and Kenya forces ensued, and was only declared successful on the Kenyan side today after four days.
So far 61 civilians and six soldiers have been counted amongst the dead, with bodies trapped under rubble from fallen floors still to be recovered.
Coming into a country facing that situation, I have been mindful that the shock waves are likely to be deep. This being my first time in Nairobi, I cannot say that I feel a tangible ‘atmosphere’ of fear or tension – I think that would be more noticeable if I could compare to previous experience – but of course the incident has been the focus of all the news reports and the discussions of the people I am visiting.
I feel I understand the comparative context better by being in the city; there are many shopping malls in Nairobi, but Westgate is one of the biggest, akin to the attack having been made at Westfields. That shines a light on why it seems so particularly malevolent and harsh: there was absolutely certainty of maximum impact.
Just as when London experienced the terror attack on July 7th 2007, a sense of ‘unity against the enemy’ seems to be the order of the day; the only physical manifestation of tight security I have experienced was going to a shopping mall today to buy some water, and the car and our bodies/bags being scanned on entry. Tomorrow I will be heading out of Nairobi into a more rural area in Western Kenya, and I wonder what discussions I will hear over the next few days.
My host for the week is Sporting Chance International (SCI), and particularly Fred, who has been instrumental in supporting our teams, whom we sent for the first time this year. Today I visited a school called Northgate where the teams were based for part of their stay, and I was touched to hear how genuinely they had made an impact, with some students rating the lessons they taught as the highlight of their term!
Of course the novelty value is high, but they didn’t know those comments would get back to me. It is very encouraging when we hear so directly how our teams have a positive impact.