The day the devil visited and caused senseless death and destruction in Nairobi
The day began for me just as other Fridays – the newspaper I worked for did not publish on weekends, so Fridays were pretty easy.
As the news editor, the first thing I did was to assign the reporters and photographers the duties for the day. I then assigned myself to cover the meeting between the United States Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and Minister for Trade, Prudence Bushnell .
I assigned Martin Waweru to be my photographer for the event. However, Waweru would not get out of the newsroom.
I pleaded, threatened and pleaded again but Waweru would say he had forgotten this or that and had to go back to the newsroom to look for the missing item.
Running out of patience, I started walking to the lifts (we were based on 12th floor of Lonrho House). Then I bumped into my elder brother, Ahmed Ben Bella, who had come to see me over some personal issue.
20TH CENTURY CINEMA
We rode together in the lift and just outside 20th Century Cinema, we stopped. Then it happened. The loud blast left in its wake a dusty whirlwind over the skies.
That’s when I pushed my brother aside and, as any good journalist would do, I started sprinting towards the source of the blast.
By this time the city was in a tumult with people running helter skelter not knowing what had happened.
Near Kencom building, I met this elderly man who was calling out some lady’s name interspersed with mournful dirge of “Nyasaye Gaki” in Ekegusii. Since I was of no much help, I sprinted past him barrelling towards what I was sure was a big story.
Sprinting the last stretch I saw a bleeding Kamotho being carried by a bodyguard and one of his aides, the former journalist Johnson Gakungu, but I never bothered them. Only a heart as cold as an ex-wife’s heart would start asking questions in such circumstances.
Reaching the Co-operative Bank building I ran into a scene straight from hell. The edifice that had long marked the Nairobi skyline, and which Kenyans affectionately called ‘bell bottom house’, had its window panes shattered. Bodies of passers-by were strewn all over. The one strange thing was that the blast had ripped clothes off the victims.
They lay there, robbed of their dignity in the senseless death.
At this time rumours were flying all over – it was a terror attack (true), more bombers were on their way to Nairobi (false), Tanzania had also been attacked (true), there was a similar attempt at State House (false).
In the middle of the chaos, I ran into the then Permanent Secretary for Cooperative Development, my friend Philemon Mwaisaka. A church elder, the long-serving civil servant would tell me thus: “Tom, hiini kazi ya shetani (this is the work of the devil).” I couldn’t disagree with him, for after all, who can lead a man to visit such death and destruction upon fellow human beings if not the devil himself?
This was the day I saw fellow journalists put away their notebooks and cameras and join in rescue operations. Without basic tools, we used our bare hands to rummage through the debris, searching for survivors. At one point, we joined members of the public in telling off the security team at the US embassy.
As we were busy searching for survivors, some not very intelligent American security officer cocked his gun and warned us to stay away from the embassy building, claiming that the Kenyan rescuers were looters. Which made an infuriated Kenyan to shout at them: “If you were this hawk-eyed with the terrorists, we could not be having this problem.” We shouted the poor soldier back into the innards of the ruined embassy building.