While I certainly didn’t anticipate the recent attack by the Somalia-based terror organization Al-Shabaab on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, I realize that I have written several articles in the past year about Kenyan elections, "ethnic" violence (really based on economics), poverty and hunger, and that particular regional guerrilla force. This is, in part, because I had an opportunity for a brief visit to Kenya a long time ago and due to the fact that this country is often in the news.
Kenya seems to have everything that would attract attention: A strong western presence through tourism and the United Nations; an economic climate that includes people who are very well off down to those abjectly poor; a multicultural environment that creates a vibrant but contentious welter of tribal, political and religious allegiances; and leadership who are heroes in some eyes and criminals in others.
And, of course, Kenya has my children. My younger daughter works there. My elder daughter has lived there a couple of times, doing academic research. One of my sons travels there, leading student tours through a Canadian NGO. This has led me to read about Kenyan history and current events and begin to work my way through a "Lonely Planet Kenya" travel book in anticipation of visiting there in the not-too-distant future.
That was what I was doing early Saturday morning when texts, phone calls and then TV news grabbed my attention. The details of the next four days are known to all and don’t need to be repeated here. My daughter is fine — she was safe at home far from the action. But given our very small world, she was acquainted with one of the people who died, and she knows people who lost friends at the mall. My other two Kenya-connected children contacted people they know, and everyone seems to be OK. And, for what it’s worth, I found out that a colleague of mine lost her father’s cousin.
My thanks to friends and family who contacted us during a tense and worrisome weekend, asking how things were, sending us news stories and sharing their own connections to Kenya. I won’t say that I was never in tears about this, but what I will remember is that others further removed from the situation also were.
Sorry to those who lost friends and loved ones. We count ourselves among the lucky. The news has carried the stories of heroes, geniuses and ordinary people who didn’t deserve to die but were caught up in the Kenya mall attack.
I would recommend that people learn what they can about Kenya and other countries in the poorer parts of our world while the wound of this violence still provides the motivation to do so. Like any topic or situation so important, it is also complex. No brief newspaper article can — or should — explain it all.
What makes it hard for most folks to focus on this particular crisis is that the next few stories on the news after Kenya were no less important, complex and troubling: Chemical attacks in Syria, earthquake in Pakistan, visit to the UN by the new leader from Iran, imprisonment of the disgraced former leader in China, and on and on. And then, of course, people have their own lives to lead and their own challenges to face.
In my reading and searching the Internet after the crisis was over, I found something that really stayed with me. It was a website that promotes a variety of social justice issues. This particular edition, aimed at teachers, said (I paraphrase): We always talk to students about war and how we need to end it. Let’s talk to them about peace and get their ideas about what peace would look like and how we can create it.
What I’ve seen through social media, along with concern and grief from people with strong connections to Kenya and to people caught up in the violence, is an "I’m giving up on humanity" response. That won’t change anything. It won’t bring about the peace that we all crave.
My daughter is back to work in Nairobi. My son is now meeting with students, parents and officials hoping that his next trip will still go ahead. My other daughter is still planning her next research trip there.
We’re sorry for your loss, Kenya — and we’ll see you soon!
» Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations active in our province.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 30, 2013