Missing Westgate victims didn’t just disappear

The Westgate attack, beyond being an emotionally and spiritually awful thing to come to terms with, has surely made us all think about many things we do not normally think about.

Yet, there is perhaps one understanding that has left me most pained in the witnessing: and that is the matter of leadership.

I know, and we all know, that the big plan from our government is to make sure we are never told what went on inside Westgate for those last two terrible days, what those last shoppers and workers lived through and why, and even who they were.

Awful events

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We have had to listen to the inhumanity of a speech saying those people aren’t really missing and will turn up in Kisumu, even as their families suffer the worst kind of loss - not for them the funerals, the coming together, the release of knowing the events were so awful, but their loved ones are honoured and now at peace.

Three days of national mourning, but only for some of the victims: is the underway sign-off from our leadership.

One could think that maybe it’s some kind of supra-parental loving that means our government doesn’t want us to know how bad it was. But one doesn’t have to interrogate too many of the people who know to learn that, no, this is not a piece of protection for our feelings, and for the feelings of those families. The truth is that this is instead the worst kind of cover-up.

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Those defence forces had advisors arrive with experience on how to handle the situation, but they refused all input. Why?

Instead, they used the wrong weaponry in an incredibly amateur, disorganised and unprofessional push that was the culmination of a catalogue of poor decision making and ineptitude in saving those last souls: is one part of the story. Are we supposed to believe that Kenyan national pride was a sacred cow above global expertise, when our people were hanging by a thread and help was there to be had?

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Another story, beyond even that oddity, is the claim that our leadership just couldn’t bear to tell us the terrorists got away, so all the missing, still hiding, ended up, profoundly, hiding from the defence forces, and profoundly, killed by them?

With the space now left wide upon for that tale and that belief, which of us can emerge from this whole disaster with our faith in our own leadership not savaged? Really, not any of our government will now tell us the truth, or stand for the truth? Whatever that truth is, and whenever we get to it, we have to presume it wasn’t the big plan to screw up and kill people at the start. But those missing people didn’t just disappear and very few of them will turn up in Kisumu. Decisions were made. And we do have a right to know what they were.


We have a right to know what happened. For, whatever went on, at base, that saw people hurt, at least, we can learn from it: if we study it for the lessons.

As an alternative, ‘losing’ the lost and ‘losing’ the truth, is deliberate, and immoral. It hurts those families even more: we deny respect, and we undermine faith in our leadership, which may be the biggest blow of all those terrorists could have landed on us.

Do those terrorists get that too, to leave us divided and lying to one another?

The fact is that leaders who are driven by pride, leaders who think they are perfect and cannot own their mistakes, these people should never be left to lead us all. For, then, we all pay the price of their errors without ever anyone getting a chance for a better set of decisions next time.

Not every leader can be a true expert in all things. And at Westgate we needed those who have done nothing but study weaponry and structural engineering, hostage psychology and rescue tactics. To shrug off these learnings so we could have ‘our own go’ with never a mini-course on handling terrorist attacks and under extreme pressure, must surely count as irresponsible. Most especially when we have been extremely far indeed from the most violence-torn nation on this planet the last half century.

Great leaders and great peoples know that greatness comes from drawing the best from within and from beyond too, from mustering all experience and knowhow to the one great cause, from knowing our weaknesses as well as our strengths, and being open to the very best ways of getting the very best sum.

And great leadership comes with honesty: and humility too.

So are our leaders to remain as gods, who shoot rocket blasters inside warehouse-sized buildings and are apparently surprised when they collapse? Or can we know, and learn, and forgive, the decisions that were poor, knowing they were not malicious, but that we shall all learn from them?

One thing for sure: we will never forgive them for ‘losing’ our lost as a cover up.

The writer is Consulting Editor at The Standard Group.

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