News / Africa

Kenya's Wounds Will Linger After Mall Siege

Kenya's Wounds Will Linger After Mall Siegei
X
September 25, 2013 3:27 PM
Kenya has declared three days of mourning for the victims of the terrorist attack on a mall in the capital, Nairobi. But as VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow reports, it may take much longer for the country’s emotional wounds to heal.
Gabe Joselow
Kenyan mental health workers say the terrorist siege on a shopping mall in the capital Nairobi will leave lasting scars on the nation’s psyche.  Victims and soldiers alike are trying to cope with the trauma of the attacks, which left more than 60 people dead and nearly 200 wounded.
 
The gunshots have stopped, as have the sporadic explosions.  The helicopters no longer circle the skies above the Westgate shopping center.
 
But for four days, the mall was the scene of unspeakable horror, inflicted by a group of al-Shabab militants armed with guns and grenades, and intent on killing as many people as they could: men, women and children.
 
Loi Awat, a television writer in Nairobi, hid in a Barclays bank branch inside the Nakumatt supermarket at the mall for four hours as the gunmen rampaged through the aisles.
 
“For some time we in the bank didn’t know they were terrorists, we thought they were coming to rob the bank," she said."Then they didn’t come and we thought they were robbing Nakumatt because they spent so much time around Nakumatt, then we heard them saying something in Arabic and we were like ‘Oh my God.’”
 
Awot said she remembered every detail, the voices of the militants, the moment the television, still on inside the bank, started broadcasting news of the attack.
 
She sent messages to her friends on the outside to give them as much information as she could to try to save her life.
 
Now, she tries not to think about it.
 
“It’s one of those things that once you experience it, you can’t unexperience it," she said. "It’s one of those things that the feeling of being there is so significant, its so clear, you can’t not be changed, or you can’t not think differently after that, after such a thing.”
 
During the siege, the Red Cross recruited mental health counselors to speak with families and victims and to help guide them through the traumatic ordeal.  
 
At the Oshwal community center a block away from the Westgate mall, volunteer psychologists shared cups of tea with the bereaved.
 
Coping with tragedy

Dr. Gladys Mwiti, the chair of the Kenya Psychological Association, says doctors have adopted strategies to cope with tragedy learnt from past events, including Kenya’s last major terrorist attack, the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in 1998.
 
Speaking to journalists on the last day of military operations, she said the impact of Westgate will be worse than that.
 
"The reason being this is an extended period of time.  With the bombing, it happened and things stopped," she said. "But then we know that this has been like a bleeding thing. “
 
Fear, anxiety and apprehension are all symptoms Mwiti says people experience after traumatic events. Another one is false guilt.
 
“False guilt is like saying, ‘Why did I have to allow my wife and my baby to go to Nakumatt on that day to do shopping?’  Of course nobody knew it would happen,” she said.
 
Counselors also met with Kenyan soldiers who fought the exhausting battle against a dangerous and unpredictable opponent and who witnessed first-hand the gruesome scene inside the mall.
 
Psychologist June Koinange worked with soldiers at the Oshwal center.
 
“Let’s put it this way," she said. "There are some things that of course we cannot share, but they share with us, but we cannot share publicly.  However, one of the things that came out very strongly for us was the fact that they appreciated the fact that somebody cares enough to ask them ‘how are you feeling?’”
 
After announcing victory over the militants, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of mourning for the country.  
 
But healing a traumatized nation will likely take somewhat longer.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs