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Let Westgate horror open our eyes to rebuild Kenya

By Jenny Luesby | September 24th 2013

On Monday morning, there was a single tweet that finally brought me to tears, in an anguish that, as the now dead-at-Westgate Ghanian poet Kofi Awoonor once wrote, had seen the tears out of reach on something just too big.

Monday’s tweeter wrote only: O God of all creation, bless this our land and nation.

And that was the moment I finally wept.

Words a thousand times stood for, engraved in our brains, sung out over and over again in our united and common plea for this land we love and believe in.

But our Kenya is bleeding.

And this isn’t our only blow.

Across this horrible weekend behind us, which of us can even imagine the fear and horror for those hostages, and for the children.  

Al Shabaab has given us a new level of fear. They have changed our climate, and changed our lives.

As one of my children’s schools posted an update on those struck down, a 9-year-old in Aga Khan with two bullets in his leg and his mother and older sister still inside Westgate by Sunday afternoon, another 14-year-old girl shot in the shoulder - so Monday then came and we sent our children back to their schools, their ranks thinned.

Gradually announcements had come through, or news from friends, of those we knew who were gone.

But we are they. And they are we. And they have died horribly, buying sugar.

And they also died now, up against a backdrop that has been far from good in recent months.

It is to the credit of every Kenyan that we got through an election without killing one another, but in the six months since, fear, and fractiousness, bullying, lock outs, and shoot-to-kill even for our local thieves - no longer with any right to trial, and often not even thieves - a burnt down airport, forever bickering politicians, road carnage, an empty public purse, and a walk away from a human rights convention, as well as the ongoing abandonment of our desperate unemployed  – we have not in 2013 covered ourselves in glory as a united nation, or a land where we care for and respect one another.

We just haven’t. Not with every bribe we took and bribe we paid. Not with every word of prejudice, every pointless, miniscule dispute driven by greed and ego, instead of the common good, not with all the ways we are not caring for our very own people.

It’s a base of prevailing disrespect and disunity that makes it all the harder when we are struck from the outside. Yet, when we are struck by al-Shabaab, we are all struck, regardless of tribe, or race, age, gender, or status. In this adversity, we are one.

And there lies the only hope, the only way that God could be with us in this – if those who have died have awoken us: if they did not die in vain, if we honour them with the one and only thing that we have so been getting wrong, and now get it right – we cannot forever keep striking at our nation, at our society, at the interests of us all, in a chase of greed and selfishness.

If we are not together in building Kenya now, each of us turning away the bribes, each of us clearing the rubbish and creating the jobs, each of us stretching to understand the other, then our ship is sinking.

Of course, we can continue to turn away from that truth, even in the face of this new horror.  

In Australasia, the media reported in one story how the prospects for the Kenyan economy were bright until this terror attack. KOT exclaimed at how ridiculous that was. But what has happened at Westgate is bigger than the immediate terror. A way of life is gone. Who will race now to children’s days, and coffee cafes, without knowing where the nearest emergency exit? Al Shabaab has even maxxed the fear with threats of more.

The truth is our capital city has taken a crippling blow. Whose volunteering for a business trip to Nairobi now? Whose booking their next holiday in Kenya? It isn’t nothing. Fear undermines us all.

But it strains the sick so much more than it blights the strong.

Which is why my prayers now are that as we see our leaders at a table together, as we know our President lost his own too, as our tweeters rise with messages of unity and fund raising, that this might truly be the permanent shift we so desperately need, and not a moment in passing, another short season of Kenyans for Kenya.

Our need for unity, our need for personal responsibility, our need to rebuild and heal our ailing nation, they are so, so real, and if the horror of Westgate finally opened our eyes to that, then those who died will have died for us all.

We can honour them with that. It is in our power. It's a choice.




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