Kenyan conflict hits home for students on campus
For neuroscience sophomore Grace Kamau, the terrorist attacks in Kenya last Saturday, were too close for comfort. Kamau said the shootings took place about 5 minutes away from her home in Nairobi.
“My first instinct was to worry about my father’s well being, so I texted him to call me as soon as possible and confirm that he was okay,” she said. “He called me soon after and told me that it was a very serious situation, but that he was at work.”
Westgate Mall, located in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, was attacked in a terrorist shooting that claimed at least 60 lives. The plot was an ongoing mission started on Somali soil weeks or months ago by the external operations arm of terrorist group Al-Shabaab, according to the New York Times.
The initial attack turned into a hostage situation that played out across this week, resulting in dozens of injuries. News reports indicate that Kenyan officials had regained control of the mall Tuesday.
Officials said powerful belt-fed machine guns were secretly stashed in a shop in the mall with the help of an employee. Officials consider the attack a retaliation for Kenya’s peacekeeping forces in Somalia.
For a few of MSU’s international students, the catastrophe had major implications.
Kamau said she would go to Westgate Mall almost every weekend with her friends to hang out or run errands. Kamau’s father works close to the mall and was happy she was abroad at school.
“He said that he was glad I was not in Nairobi at this time, because I would have been probably been in Westgate that weekend, which is true,” Kamau said. “It was really hard to hear of all the people close to me who were in such distress, but it was also very encouraging to see how our initial reaction was not to point fingers, but to band together in this tough time.”
Economics senior Ibrahim Gulamhusein, whose hometown is Mombasa, said even though he was thousands of miles away from Kenya, he still could feel the pain and fear that his family and friends were going through.
“My friends and family were scared,” Gulamhusein said. “Some of them were trying to get in touch with their loved ones to see if they were safe.”
Assistant Director of African Studies Ann Biersteker, who has been doing study abroad courses in Kenya for the past 30 years, said the safety of Kenya hasn’t been clear since the 1998 bombings of the U.S Embassy.
“Last year, there were warnings of a terror attack in Mombasa and we had to evacuate the students,” Biersteker said. “Fortunately, they came back and everything was fine.”
Attempting to stay positive, Kamau said she remains proud of where she comes from. People of all walks of life are helping out, giving blood and donating food and clothing.
However, she believes the increasing influence of the Al-Shabaab in East Africa is only going to grow.
The mass shooting was nothing but a political petition, she said.
“Now the question is whether our government will comply to see these stipulations or take into account the safety of its people,” Kamau said. “Only time will tell what God had in store for Kenya as this point.”