Big bang that scarred Kenya and changed city's skyline


A scene of the August 7, 1998 bomb blast. [File, Standard]

It was a day like no other. The big bang had gone off and Nairobi was a nightmare. When explosions went off at around 10.30 am on August 7, 1998, the ensuing chaos united the country in grief and the world in fear. And the fragments of miniature glasses embedded in the bodies of the victims are still buried deep within, exerting excruciating pain and heartaches. 

On any other day, pickpockets, hand cart pullers matatu touts and hawkers would have been haranguing Nairobians going about their business at the junction of Haile Sellassie Avenue and the neighbourhood of the Railway Station.

It would have been unthinkable for a government minister to board a matatu. But on this extraordinary day, the vocal, straight-shooting Joseph Kamotho, Kanu’s fifth secretary general, was not in the mood to negotiate with any matatu crew.

In fact, his bodyguards commandeered a matatu that ultimately took him to Nairobi Hospital.

The US ambassador to Kenya then, Prudential Bushnell who had just minutes been blasted out of a meeting with Kamotho, in the ill-fated Cooperative Building also found herself in an unlikely place, Gertrude Children’s Hospital.

But this was just a minute fragment of the chaos and disorder that engulfed the city then. The then Cooperative Bank CEO Erastus Mureithi ran around town in a desperate search for his son, secretary and bodyguard as well as other employees.

At one point, he broke down as tried to assess the damage. He too had been caught in the middle of the blast. He was in a meeting with some consultants when he was flung under the table. Luckily his son Ernest Waithaka who had been badly injured had taken himself to Kenyatta National Hospital where he forbid doctors from reconstructing his face which had multiple cuts. He wanted to carry these his entire life as a reminder of this day.

He was among over 4,000 people who were injured and would forever suffer the consequences of the bomb attack. They were however luckier than the 213 people who died from the blast.

As Kenya marks 26 years since the attack that changed the landscape of Nairobi and the world, demonstrating how devastating a terror attack could be, the victims who lost their loved ones and are still nursing their injuries hope that America will one day compensate them.

They can never understand why the US was keen to compensate its citizens who were killed and maimed during the attack in Nairobi but ignored the plight of the Kenyans who suffered a similar fate.

Like children of a lesser god, all that victims can expect today are lofty speeches, the lighting of candles and a retreat to torturous lives to hope and pray that one day, justice will be done.