The 1998 blast through the eyes of mothers and the babies

The next time you become aware of your surroundings you are in a hospital bed.

This is an experience that did not leave out expectant women who were caught up in the misfortune of Aug 7 1998 that brought unimaginable grief in the country 25 years ago. Now a generation later they still live with physical and psychological scars but are thankful that the babies they were carrying during the blast are turning 25.

Lilian Munyiva, a survivor of the blast, says that she was working on the 12th floor Co-operative House. The blast happened a month after their offices were moved from Haile Selassie to the pioneer building. Munyiva recalls how her boss, a Mr Kangeta, decided to move her sitting location from the window to a corner, a move that saved her life and that of her unborn child.

"I wondered why he moved me. But I chose to obey. Where he told me to sit was a pillar behind me and that is the pillar that saved my life, because the glasses did not reach me," she says

Munyiva says that she was in a different world, she did not even hear the second blast.

"Lilian tumekufa (Lilian we have died), one of my colleagues called Shem cried out. Then I realized that I did not have my shoes on, and I had heard that when people die they are normally barefoot so I knew I was in heaven. then I wondered why God did not alert me to say goodbye to my family," she says

Some of the 1998 bomblast survivors during prayers at the Memorial Garden Nairobi on August 5, 2023. [Elvis Ogina ,Standard]

The babies the mothers were carrying are not babies any more. They will be turning 25 in a few days and weeks.

A group was formed for them called the silent survivors.

Nancy Mghoi, the daughter of Irene Mwamburi, says that growing up they would call her bomb blast baby. When she was older she decided to enquire about the nickname.

"When I was 12 my mother explained why people used that nickname and I understood what she went through. I feel like a miracle baby," she says

Another survivor, Lucky Mwema, says that every time someone calls his name or every time he writes his name he knows that this life has been definite gift.

Emmanuel Mwema is another silent survivor, just like Nancy at the age of 12 his mother Lilian Munyiva sat him down and explained how she survived the bomb blast.

"But whenever I met my people they would say oh this is the bomb blast baby. But I feel like it is 25 years of gratitude of health and having my mother around," He says

Mwema works at the memorial park at the moment as a filmmaker. He documents and tells survivors' tales.

"I am listening to stories of people who lost too much, I also got to understand the bigger picture. I am really grateful," He says

Irene says whenever she hears a bang or a blast, it takes her back to 1998. Through counselling after the blast they got encouraged to talk about the experience.

She adds that they still have shards of glasses in their bodies.

"5 years after the blast I would sit, feel an itch on my head and when I scratch it I remove a piece of glass. My children started helping me whenever I felt a swelling. They would come and remove a piece of glass"

She tells The Standard that anyone who was in the bomb blast has scratches all over their body

"We go through issues up to today we still go for day care kind of surgeries. Most of our bodies are full of glasses. it is a norm that we have to deal with" says Munyiva


Munyiva says that expectant women suffered a lot. One had the baby at 4 and a half months and was in an incubator for a while. She says most women went through a lot of trauma. Post-partum depression was not like any other because now you have the trauma of a baby and the trauma of a mother who experienced the bomb blast. "Most women did not go for therapy because you know most of us had babies at home so we did not have time to go for counselling," says Munyiva and adds "When he was born he was red. So I used to massage him with oil after washing him" says Munyiva.

Expert opinion

Dr Saudah Farooqui consultant obstetrician and gynecologist at Nairobi West Hospital says that there is a little bit of data that shows a blast can cause minimal effects to the unborn child.

Kenyans laying wreath flowers in memory of victims of bomb blast at USA Embassy Nairobi in August 1998. [File, Standard]

Ronny says that they saw a bus. The driver was dead lying on the steering wheel.

"We had no gloves but we removed around 30 people in the bus. The rescue team came and we continued with the rescue mission,"

He says that the most traumatic scenes were the sight of the many bodies.

"There was an expectant woman under a bus, we wanted to help her but when we got closer we realized she was dead. The rescue mission was traumatizing, there was someone on the bus with a metal in his chest, we saw things that will forever be stuck in our minds," He says

Renowned photojournalist Jacob Otieno was off duty on that day and had spent the better part of the morning in his house. But he decided to run errands in town and that is when he was met with commotion and a scene that is still the most heartbreaking he had laid eyes on.

"When we were at Jogoo Road, I noticed several vehicles making U-turns while some people were running towards town. My journalist's instinct kicked in and I was more than eager to know what could have happened. When we reached Likoni Road, the vehicle I had boarded opted to turn around and head the opposite direction. Everyone was now scared. I alighted and ran to our office on Likoni Road" He says.

Jacob was directed by his boss to rush to Wilson Airport where they took a helicopter and flew towards the US embassy where the tragedy had happened.

The newsroom was buzzing with activity from the moment word went round that something had happened in town. The editors raced against time to produce an early edition to give Kenyans a glimpse of what had taken place.

Some of the photos he took are of the then Minister Joseph Kamotho who had a meeting with the American ambassador to Kenya Prudence Bushnell.

During this interview Jacob let tears flow as he remembered Rose Wanjiku also known as Kenya's candle in the wind. She got stuck in the rubble of Ufundi House for 3 days and died on the last day.

"We could hear Rose talk, we could talk to her, the security team could talk to her." Jacob now retired tells This writer, " The rescuers could talk to her."

He pauses trying to compose himself. " But she did not survive. A team from Israel came and removed her body," He says

Jacob says that Rose had been communicating until her voice could not be heard anymore.