July 17, 2002
The terror now known in the U.S. following the Sept. 11 attacks, many
Kenyans learned about firsthand four years ago
when a terrorist bomb exploded at the American embassy in Nairobi, causing
Four men were convicted of joining with Osama bin Laden in an al-Qaida
terrorist plot that led to the Nairobi blast,
which killed more than 200 people, including 11 Americans. Among the
survivors, Douglas Sidialo, a Kenyan who
is on a mission to build a global support group for the victims of
terrorism. Sidialo’s trauma and recovery are highlighted
in a new book written by Kenya-born Elijah F. Akhahenda, Ph.D., associate
professor of communication studies at
St. Mary’s University, “When Blood and Tears United a Country: The Bombing
of the American Embassy in Kenya,” published by University Press of
Sidialo, 32, lost his eyesight in the explosion on Aug. 7, 1998. As a
marketing executive for Yahama, he was driving
to the bank when the truck bomb went off. It was nearly simultaneous with
the bombing of the American embassy in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es
Salaam, which killed 11 people.
Sidialo, a self-described ecumenical Catholic, will be in San Antonio for
two weeks beginning July 20
to visit Akhahenda and rally support for a survivors’ group called Visual
Seventh August, which provides psychological,
physical and financial support to the Kenyan victims.
Four years ago, Kenya was rife with ethnic divisions and political
uncertainty. The East African nation of 30 million
people was plagued by reports of ethic cleansing; the president for the
first time was not from the dominant ethnic
group, the Kikuyus, and he had not yet appointed a vice president;
political parties were defined not by ideology
or philosophy but by ethnicity involving more than 40 ethnic groups. A
large majority of Kenyans are Christian, primarily Protestant, but
estimates for the proportion of the population that adheres to Islam or
indigenous beliefs vary widely.
For his first book, Akhahenda applied what he describes as a theory of
metaethnic imagination to explain the
way Kenyans reacted to the tragedy. He wanted to know if Kenyans
collectively would react positively or feel
threatened personally and respond negatively in a time of national crisis.
He found out that in the wake of the terrorist attack, Kenyans responded
with a spirit of national unity and resilience
the country had not evidenced since independence in 1963 from the United
Kingdom, said Akhahenda, who left
Kenya in 1975 to go to college in the U.S.
“Across the political divide, there was national unity,” Akhahenda said.
“People were propelled beyond ethnic
divisions to a metaethnic view of nationalism. There was a cry for unity
from every Kenyan I interviewed,” he said.
“People did not rise up against Muslims as a group even though four Muslims
were responsible for the bombing.”
Religious leaders were unified and ordinary people mourned and healed
together. “When Blood and Tears United
a Country” chronicles how the American embassy bombing affected individual
families and the way Kenya
as a whole reacted.