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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs