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Obama lays wreath at Memorial Park, four years after killing Al Qaeda's Osama

By Alphonce Shiundu | Jul 25th 2015 | 3 min read
US President Obama bows his head after laying a wreath at Memorial Park on the former site of the U.S. Embassy, where al Qaeda bombed the compound in 1998 killing more than 200 people, in Nairobi. (Photo:Reuters)

US President Barack Obama Saturday afternoon visited the August 7 Memorial Park in Nairobi’s Central Business District where he laid a wreath.

The park is a symbol of devastation that Osama bin Laden left in the country 17 years ago when he bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi, killing 218 people and injuring at least 5,000 others.

For Obama, who last visited the memorial park in 2006 with his wife Michelle and their two daughters, Saturday's visit will be akin to telling those who died that he fulfilled his promise to promote peace across the world with the killing of Osama four years ago.

Following Obama's orders, Osama was killed in Abbotabad, Pakistan on May 1, 2011 by US Navy Seals.

The trip to the Nairobi site took Obama to the noisy junction where Moi Avenue meets Haile Sellassie Avenue, just opposite the bus terminus aptly named 'Railways' – after the nearby headquarters of Kenya Railways—where a tranquil garden stands.

The park, which is slightly larger than a football field, is filled with trees, lush green grass, a fountain, paved footpaths and a marble plaque engraved with names of the dead. The people whose names are on the plaque died 17 years ago when al Qaeda terrorists bombed the embassy of the United States in Nairobi and Tanzania.

In one corner, next to the Cooperative Bank building, there's a gallery and an office. On display are stories of survivors, sympathy notes, and pledges for peace and non-violence in the world. There are pictures of the prominent people who have visited the memorial.

All the US ambassadors to Kenya, from Prudence Bushnell, the one who survived the attack because she was meeting the then Education Minister Joseph Kamotho to the current ambassador Robert Godec, who will hold the record for bringing Obama back home, have been to the memorial to commiserate with the survivors and pay their respects to the victims.

For 17 years, the victims have nursed their pain, in the hope that one day the US Government will come back and compensate them for turning their lives and that of their families upside down. Many others have died, few have held onto life, hoping, praying and believing that their cries and prayers will be heard.

They have seen the US Vice President Joe Biden come and go. No compensation. It was the same in May when Secretary of State John Kerry came and left, and even when Kerry's predecessor Hillary Clinton visited Nairobi.

The Standard took a peek at the visitors' book at the memorial to see what Obama said nine years ago when he and Michelle visited the park. Though the handwriting is a little hard to read, the signature with which he makes decisions that run the world's largest democracy is unmistakable.

"We continue to remember the lives lost, American and Kenyan, and pledge to work together to bring people together around peace and understanding," he wrote in the visitors' book on August 25, 2006

Obama wrote on the same page that his wife Michelle had written on. They are the only ones who wrote on that page. Michelle, wrote, "Michelle Obama. Wife of Barack Obama. May God bless us all and may we never forget!"

As US President, a visit to the memorial will be of huge significance and the victims hope he will listen to their hackneyed cry for compensation.

Late Friday, hours before the US President Barack Obama arrived in Nairobi, the tranquility of the garden, was shattered when some of the victims, and a few activists on terrorism turned up to remind the world that people died when the bomb exploded in that compound where the US Embassy stood.

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