Kenya must emerge stronger from attack on Westgate mall

By Henry Munene

It was a Saturday from hell. When the news broke that an armed band of ‘thugs’ had stormed into Westgate mall, many of us shrugged it off as another robbery that would hopefully be easily contained.

But when the news filtered in that more could have been afoot, there was trepidation all over town. We started making frantic calls to find out whether friends and relatives were okay.

So when I called a friend who worked at the mall, I was horrified to hear that – horror, horror – he was holed up in a room on second floor.

After assurances that all would be well, tendered through a hopelessly tremulous voice, all we could do was pray that he and others would emerge from the scene from hell unscathed. 

And though my friend emerged unharmed, I later came to learn that another friend was among those who did not make it out of the building.

As the disturbing scenes reeled on, memories flooded back of the Westgate I knew, especially in my earlier incarnation as a books editor. For it is here that we launched quite a number of tomes I had edited.

I could thus not believe that it was all happening there; the black smoke ominously billowing into the skies and sounds of bullets ricocheting from everything around.

What sort of coward targets innocent women and children, I wondered.

Unknown to the cowardly attackers, the whole incident brought out the real picture of who we are; a country full of valiant patriots ready to do anything to safeguard the ‘glory of Kenya, the fruit of our labour’.

I saw it every time a plainclothes police officer emerged from the scary cavern, proudly carrying a toddler in his one hand as eyes darted this way and that, while the other hand firmly clutched a pistol. The defiance I saw in those eyes, unmoved by the staccato hail of bullets from the attackers, was for me the true image of Kenya.

And just when I thought the cop would walk out after ensuring the child was out of harm’s way, he would break into a run back to what seemed like a scene from a bloody movie, later to emerge triumphantly holding aloft a lady – and all this armed with just a pistol!

Comrades, the valour of those gallant heroes was a summation of who we are; a people unbowed.

The lessons from the attack, I believe, are even more paramount. First, we must by now have realised that despite the ethnic vitriol our politicians pass off as party differences, the challenges we face are one. As such, our hope lies in hanging together, lest we be hanged in our separate cocoons.

The tear glands of many could not withstand the moving spectacle of Kenyans from across the land queuing for hours on end to donate blood, sending via M-Pesa whatever farthing they had for the welfare of fellow Kenyans and doing all they could for one another. It was a divine moment frozen in time; a revelation of a heritage of splendor riding on a storm. It simply went beyond words.

There are the more painful lessons, of course. First we need to be more vigilant. The uniformed guard holding a mirror under your car needs serious training because, truth be told, he wouldn’t tell a grenade from an avocado. We also need to poke our noses into the life of the guy who rented the flat or kiosk next to or from us.

 Thirdly, we need to seriously eliminate graft in institutions that deal with security and immigration. That is the only way we can scare the idiocy out of fanatical boys who think like the dog in Achebe’s Arrow of God that thinks it can put out a bush fire with its fart they can shake this country.

We have to ensure we emerge stronger from it all and show the devil that he chose the wrong town.