Bomb blast babies: Mothers recall day of terror some 25 years later

Caroline Muthoka and Lilian Munyiva survivors of the August 7, 1998 bomb blast on American Embassy, Nairobi during the interview at the memorial Park on July 24, 2023. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

On August 7 1998, Lilian Munyiva reported on duty as usual. She worked on the 12th floor at Co-operative House. 

Munyiva was heavily pregnant and since it was a Friday, she looked forward to a restful weekend.

A month earlier, their offices had been moved from another location. Munyiva recalls how her boss, a Mr. Kangeta, decided to move her from sitting near the window to a corner. The move saved her life and that of her unborn child that fateful day on August 7 1998 when a truck bomb exploded outside the US Embassy in Nairobi.

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

On the material day as Munyiva went about her business, around 10.30am, she heard a blast. The sheer force of the blast pushed her to the floor; sending shards of glass flying all over.

The air was filled with distressing cries and agonising screams - people calling mama and their maker. At first she thought she was dead, but dead people do not move and hear voices, right?

Different world

She tried to get up and get out of the building.

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

“Lilian tumekufa (Lilian are dead), one of my colleagues called Shem cried out. Then I realised 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

With some assistance she was able to get out of the building, and that is when she realised she had blood all over her body. Her biggest worry was the condition of her unborn child.

She was taken to Kenyatta National Hospital together with other injured persons. After it was confirmed that she and her baby were fine, she was allowed to go home where her family, friends and neighbours had gathered praying for her.

Another survivor, Irene Mwamburi was in her office when she heard the first bang. She and her colleague went to peep through the window. As they turned away from the window the second explosion happened.

“When I regained consciousness, I thought the sounds I had heard were gun shots and that I had been shot. Me and a colleague who was also pregnant decided to move. I thought we were on a hill... it was the remains of our office,” she says.

It was after she got out that she got a grasp of the situation.

She was taken to Mater Hospital. After being bandaged, the doctors' could not feel the baby’s heartbeat.

“I had panicked, I thought the baby was dead so I just wanted them to remove her so that I can be alive and take care of my other children, I had three children at home,” she says

Her baby survived. Her husband was able to locate her in hospital. She would later be discharged. After a month’s rest she went back to work and delivered on 17th September 1998.

These babies who miraculously survived the bomb attack turn 25 this year.

Nancy Mghoi, the daughter of Irene Mwamburi, says that growing up she would be called "bomb blast baby".

“When I was 12, my mother explained to me why people referred to me that way. I feel like a miracle baby,” she says

Munyiva's son Lucky Mwema says that he counts himself lucky to be alive.

Just like Nancy, at the age of 12 his mother sat him down and narrated to him how she survived the bomb blast.

“Some people still refer to me as 'bomb blast baby'. For me, it is 25 years of gratitude of health and having my mother around,” he says.

Mwema works at the Bomb Blast Memorial Park as a filmmaker. He documents and tells survivors’ tales. 

“I get to listen to stories of people who lost too much, I also got to understand the bigger picture. I am really grateful,” he says.

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

She adds that she still has shards of glass in her body.

“Five 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 says.

Dr Saudah Farooqui, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist 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.

“The amniotic fluid does protect the baby so to some extent the fluid absorbs the blood effects. Some studies show that the effect is more on the foetus in cephalic position which means the head of the baby is towards the pelvis of the mother", She says.

More danger

The closer the pregnancy is to delivery the more the danger the baby is exposed to because they are bigger and the fluid is less.

“Some of these babies may be born with headaches, irritability, and react to sound," says Dr Farooqui.

"Some might have some cognitive impairments initially but as they grow up it dies away."