Terrorism: Kenyans want Justice

Published on 20th September 2005

“Today, from this rostrum, we reiterate our call to the United Nations to take the necessary and just measures within the framework of international law and appeal to the international community as a whole to support this just and legitimate demand,” said Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail in the just ended 2005 UN summit. Claiming that the August 20, 1998 US attack on the Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries Company had deprived Sudanese people of basic medicines, he called on the US government to compensate Shifa’s 326 employees and their 1,500 dependants for loss of income, and denied that the factory had any link with Osama Bin Laden. Sudan feels that the UN should punish US.

About 17 Kenyan victims of the 1998 bomb at the U.S. Embassy are on hunger-strike in central Nairobi, since July 12th, to demand payment for medical expenses and other losses suffered by 5,000 victims. The group, some blind or crippled, are hurdled together on one of the ‘hills’ at the site of the old diplomatic mission, which is now a memorial park, to draw attention to their plight. The African Executive talks to Maina Simon (40), Richard Wainaina (52), Matroba Injendi (52), Zainabu kadada (46) and an officer.

AE: Why the hunger strike?

Wainaina: we are demanding the verdict of the ruling of Judge Sundit on 5th November 2001 that all victims be restituted. Since then, no action has been taken.

AE: Where are the rest of you?

Maina: Three women are not with us now. One who had a spinal injury developed complications and we excused her. There is one who had an allergy for cold and was asthmatic- she too was excused. Another woman whose husband was a victim of the bomb blast left when her husband recently succumbed to the blast injuries and passed on. She left to take care of her children.

AE: Do you know some of the survivors of the bomb blast who have since died?

Maina: It is hard to tell. People are silently suffering in their rural homes. They can’t make it to the city. To date, around fifty are gone. Medicine is quite costly out there. The injuries sustained can’t allow some of these people to work.

AE: What efforts have you made to address your plight?

Wainaina: We have approached government ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Health, Office of the President, Education, the US Embassy and USAID but none has positively responded. That is why we are left with no alternative but to strike so that our almighty God can come down and intervene or take us home.

Maina: The US government says it stands for democracy and justice, but it is preaching water and drinking wine. Their court ruled in our favor, as Wainaina, who witnessed the proceedings in New York, can testify. But they have taken no step. The US Ambassador promised to take action but  seven years are long gone.

AE: A spokesman for the US Embassy, now located on the northern outskirts of Nairobi, said that U.S. authorities had met medical costs of some 3,000 people in the aftermath of the blast and that a total of $42 million was spent on help such as medical fees and repairs to buildings damaged in the area. Are you sure you received no money?

Wainaina: The US Ambassador told the media that money was disbursed to cater for repairs. He said that 60 buildings in all were repaired, destroyed property such as office machines, transport vehicles replaced and hospital bills met. If rehabilitation of the Cooperative Bank House cost Ksh 800 million to repair (I hear), buying of a house for Ufundi cost 1 billion and the rest catered for medication and replacement, can you tell me what remained? Why can’t the US government be transparent and show the breakdown of the cash?

AE: School fees for 890 children of the deceased and permanently disabled was allocated by USAID for the next three years after the blast.

Matroba: No money reached our hands. My son who had a leg injury received some treatment and had his school fees paid for one year only. The fees and treatment was prematurely terminated.

AE: The U.S. says it is proud of its achievements in helping Kenyans affected by the bomb blast.

Zainabu: Proud? While we are still suffering? Maybe Hon. Joseph Kamotho, then Minister for Education, benefited. But we, the small people were ignored. The U.S. rebuilt the area, business and buildings, but ignored people. This is a great abuse to human dignity. I was crossing the street near Gill House when it all happened. My chest, eyes were hurt and as you can see, pus still oozes from my ears to date and I still have a problem with the eyes. My treatment was indefinitely stopped in 2001. Money has never reached our hands. The US owes me Kshs 2.5 million.

Matroba: After the bomb blast, many opportunists arose to be awarded tenders of addressing our plight. These people now drive big vehicles and are accomplices in muffling our voices.

AE: What challenges do you face here?

Maina: Authorities have created an impression that we are enemies of the people. People are even afraid to talk to us. This August, The US Ambassador didn’t come to lay a commemorative wreath but sent a representative. We have received a lot of harassment here. The loos which never used to be locked are now locked against our use.  This was a strategy to make us mess up the park so that an occasion can be found to evict us. After much pressure, at least one loo is opened at 12pm and shut at 6pm.

Wainaina: As the public started visiting us, a gate levy of Ksh 20 that never used to be charged has now been put in place to limit people who come to see us.

Zainabu: Accessing water is a problem. We were not allowed to draw water from this park. Some humanitarian workers have been helping us sometimes at their own risk. The park management withdrew water pails that used to be in the open. We have to bath in the open. We are exposed to the vagaries of weather, mosquito bites and sores. Even when it rains, we are not allowed to shelter at the park verandah. Our abode is this grass, which is drying up as you can see; we are strangers in our own country.

AE: What do you do when you fall sick?

Zainabu: There are a lot of alovera plants growing in this park as flowers. We crush them and drink their juice. We have no money for medication.

AE: Has any government official ever visited you since you launched the protest?

Maina: No Kenyan legislator has been here. It is surprising that the US knows we are here but our own country does not know. We have sent numerous letters to the government but there has been no response. Even the official leader of the opposition has received our letter but has never acted.

Matroba: To address my plight, my MP, Hon.George Khaniri sent me Ksh 100 and said he was too busy on his building project.

Wainaina: Hon. George Saitoti, my MP, does not even want to face this direction.

AE: What are they afraid of?

Maina: They are protecting their own interests at the expense of their citizens. They want to look good before the US so that aid can continue flowing. Does aid mean sacrificing the interests of your country? Isn’t this what is happening in Africa? We can’t use certain chemicals because our flowers and crops will be rejected by the European market. We can’t fight diseases using some chemicals because we shall pollute the environment. We continue dying as we adhere to foreign brewed protocols. Unless Africa makes a personal stand based on the interests of its people, we are doomed.

Matroba: I think our legislators are afraid to face travel bans as was the case of the Transport Minister, Hon. Chris Murungaru.

Wainaina: The way I see, the US government is bribing people to drive us out of this place and I am sure whoever will succeed to make us exit this park will be rewarded heavily. Many have come to buy us out in the name of cooperatives and other veiled approaches. A Human Rights group even suggested that we decamp and go to lodge in the US Embassy. All these are calculated tricks. Even the volunteer lawyer from US attached to our case turned out to be an FBI. He never used to communicate with the blast victims. How do you represent a people you aren’t talking to? Paul Muite went to the US to represent 250 blast victims. Who appointed him? Who told him only 250 were affected? Is he being used by US to limit the number of people to be compensated?

AE: How do you keep going?

Wainaina: We take a lot of water, glucose whenever available and some biscuits to keep us going.

AE: Have any groups come to your aid?

Maina :KISS FM donated some water and biscuits when park authorities were too hard on us. Citizen Radio donated water and blankets when the Red Cross declined our appeal. KTN TV and NTV have covered our plight but KBC has gone underground .BBC called but disappeared CAPITAL FM brought us some lucozade. One member of the public brought us a big polythene sheet to shield us from the rain.

AE: What is your message sent to the US government?

Wainaina: The US Embassy says our retribution will be granted after Osama is captured and arraigned in court. Is Osama holding us captive? Do we even know where he is. Are we the ones who gave birth to Osama? When the US repaired damaged offices, had Osama been captured? If the US compensated its people after the September 11 attack, should we Kenyans wait till Osama is arrested? Should we continue to suffer because Osama is not arrested? It\'s only Americans who are compensated, not Africans ... Kenyans have suffered as a result of America\'s presence. One US spokesman said he has neither eyes nor limbs to give us. Isn’t that an abuse? The US should uphold the rule of law.

AE: What are your feelings as you guard this park, especially as you see youngsters hugging and cuddling?

Officer: As I stand here, I thank God for being alive. This is a place of reflection. Reflection on how the world can be when there is repression. A closed society breeds intolerance and fanaticism. Real permanent peace can be achieved through opening trade and business, and establishing a legal system conducive to a civil society and prosperous economy. The commercial society moderates passions and prevents a descent into a jungle of greed and hate. As for the youngsters, I keep on chasing them away when they destroy the spirit of this park.


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