Forgive Me For The Westgate Atrocity

People light candles during a 24 hour prayer vigil for victims of the Westgate mall massacre near the Westgate Mall on September 28, 2013 in Nairobi. Photo/FILE



For once, I don’t know what to write in this column.

I’m not normally at a loss for words, but last week’s Westgate Mall atrocity confounds analysis. That we can come to this leaves me wondering what more needs to be written or said.

So heavily armed people can walk into a shopping mall and start tossing grenades indiscriminately at anyone and everyone around them. So someone can stroll into a tent where a children’s cookery competition is being held, point his gun at the kids and their mothers, and press the trigger. So it matters little that these are defenceless, unarmed, innocent people — they must be butchered.

And it must be done in the name of God.

I really don’t have the words to comfort those whose loved ones were killed before their eyes. I don’t have the words to sympathise with those who spent hours hiding in abject terror.

I don’t have the words to express my appreciation for those who went into that slaughterhouse to risk their own lives to rescue others. I don’t have the words to record my admiration for those who cooked food, brought supplies, provided counsel, or donated blood and money to the rescue effort.


But I do have the words to say this. I am deeply and personally sorry.

Accusatory words have been flying, and many more will fly. We will express outrage at the attackers and their motives and beliefs. We will condemn our own failures as a nation for making it so easy for terror cells to thrive in our midst. Most of us will have something to say about lots of people who are evil or incompetent or corrupt.

And so we should.

But first, let me accuse myself. Thich Nhat Hahn is a Vietnamese monk. He once wrote a remarkable poem called Call Me by My True Names. In it he makes a simple point.

We are all responsible for the state of the world. We are all culpable for every crime that is committed. Look deeply enough at the evil in the world, and you will see yourself. So call yourself by your true names.

I am culpable because whenever I saw fundamentalists of all religions spout their venom, I made myself mute.

I am culpable because whenever I heard people of one type talk trash about “those others,” I made myself deaf. I am culpable because I knew I live in a society that is deeply corrupt and morally bankrupt, and I made myself blind.

I am culpable because I knew that many more people than died in Westgate were slaughtered in similar ways in something called “post-election violence,” and I thought that had little to do with me, perhaps because it was far away from me.

I am culpable because I live in a world full of hypocrisy, where people sing with gusto in churches and temples and mosques, and then go home to promote every possible sin. I live in a world where people elect thieves and hope the thief will steal something for them. I live every day in this world, and I don’t do enough to change it.

When you live in a world of hate, intolerance, greed and self-absorption, the Westgate horror is where you end up.
So I apologise unreservedly for my part in this calamity. I am truly sorry.

I can only reach for the remaining vestiges of hope in the rubble of Westgate. I am hopeful because I saw people risk their own lives (and lose them) to save the children of strangers.

Those people give me the strength to believe that there is still virtue and selflessness in the world, and that we should bring those things back into the centre of our lives.

By einstein Posted in kenya

8 comments on “Forgive Me For The Westgate Atrocity

  1. Everything is everything; Westgate is the epitome of a failing state where the power
    elite pretends that all is well and that life goes on as if it is normal to fire antitank rockets inside a shopping mall in order to kill terrorists still holding hostages!
    Westgate is a game changer regardless of all the spin being applied by PR gurus and paid lobbyists whether at home or abroad. The facts must continue to be exposed and repeated until all of the responsible parties are stripped naked to public
    opprobrium and disgust!
    Kenya could do so much better; there are no excuses left fifty years after the Union
    Jack was lowered.


    • have been meaning to write about this. from the stories emerging
      a) the vast majority of people rescued were by police reservists, or foreign military personel who happened to be at the mall at the time. many others simply run out

      b) evidently a GSU unit and regular police also arrived and exchanged fire with the terrorists and some more hostages released

      from then on and when KDF stepped in, the details then get murky. no one came out, all these others were kicked out.

      how can anti-tank weapons, a rocket propellor etc be weapons of choice?

      plus the lack of bodies either of terrorists or victims/hostage is very strange

      all in all there is too much secrecy, and a very unclear and ambiguous storyline

      reading twitter, Ole Lenku is ridiculed beyond belief on his contradictory or senseless statements

      looks like a very poor response to this terrorist attack

      we still do not know the total number of terrorists that conducted this operation and therefore cannot tell how many were captured or escaped. if indeed any escaped then that is the most terrifying news because their next attack will be even more devastating and they will be more courageous and perhaps even more organised


      on the fact that the govt ignored intelligence reports, this is normal for people given huge responsibility for which they are ill trained or prepared. they simply cannot conceptualize the impact or significance of issues and have to be literally hit in the face in order to elicit response

      i wondered why Amb Amina was giving out near precise details of the attack/attackers in an interview and yet the incident was ongoing with no briefing from the operators on the ground. turns out they had been warned two months earlier.

      these cabinet secretaries that were introduced to kenyans with so much glamour / showbiz, are nothing but hollywood actors and their bosses nothing but drama queens and directors.


      and then whats up with the looting and binge drinking


      also the story about hostages being tortured before being murdered seems to have been muzzled.


      like everything else in kenya, incompetence is masked by tons of contradictory information and disinformation.



      finally its now clear why the exit took so long

      KDF had to cover up the mess after firing the high callibre weaponry

      the burst water pipes and what not was to wash away the evidence as well as, i suppose, body parts

      this sort of highlights the difference in army training and police training at some level. whereas police training is aimed at preserving life such as the case of hostages, army training is about winning a war, once it is declared no matter the costs

      i had misgivings about deploying army in this incident and i was not wrong.

      i also dont get why its called tactical when they come in with a sledge hammer to kill a mosquito. they could have saved some serious time by dropping a bomb on the premises and flattening everything on day 2 since hostage rescue was never an option

      we are in for some very rough days ahead.


  2. I am not sorry because I am neither culpable nor complicit; my publicly stated opinions on the myriad interconnected and associated problems afflucting Kenya accompanied by recommendations on how to begin fixing all that ails our failing state have consistently fallen on deaf ears whether within the GOK, civil society, private sector business groupings, schools of law or the diplomatic missions whe sponsor seminars and stakeholders fora.


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