As Kenya gears up for President Barack Obama’s historic speech on Sunday in its capital, Nairobi, victims of the 1998 al-Qaeda bombing of the American embassy in that city are charging “neglect” on the part of both the American and Kenyan governments, and hoping their plights are addressed by the American head of state.
“We have been so far neglected and we want Obama’s visit to be used to resolve our problems,” said Charles Ngige, described by Kenya’s The Standard newspaper as the chairman of the organization representing the victims of the embassy bombing. “The US Government compensated the owners of the building and their citizens who were working in the premises. It is unfortunate the Government left us out,” he added.
The victims, The Standard notes, organized an overnight vigil on Thursday night to attract attention to their cause as President Obama landed on the African continent.
Other victims described their plight as a “humanitarian” one; given their long-term injuries and traumas, returning to a normal life after the bombing nearly two decades ago has been impossible for many.
“The first black president in America should give us Kenyans a greater consideration on humanitarian grounds to see to it that we can have some kind of livelihood,” said Douglas Sidialo, a Kenyan victim of the attack who has since been blind. “I’m not a political person. I was just going about my normal duties,” said Stella Mwikali, whose leg and shoulder were seriously injured in the attack and who worked as a banker at the time. She is demanding compensation because she “was doing [her] job innocently” and suffered without her troubles being addressed by the parties to the attack.
The 1998 al-Qaeda bombing on the U.S. Embassy in Kenya–along with a simultaneous bombing of the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania–killed 12 Americans and 224 Kenyans, injuring another 5,000. While 26 terrorists were indicted for the bombings, the response to the attack did not weaken al-Qaeda sufficiently to prevent it from staging the most successful mass murder in its history: the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack.
President Obama will arrive in Kenya on Friday and is expected to meet with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, as well as deliver a public speech on Sunday. His expected arrival has turned Nairobi on its head, with the government placing the city on lockdown to prevent any potential terrorist activity while President Obama is there. The government is particularly concerned about terrorist activity following this year’s attack on Garissa University, where al-Shabaab terrorists killed nearly 200 Christian students by hand after taking out the school’s security infrastructure.
Shopkeepers have been warned to close the stores nearest the heart of the city, beggars have been relocated out of the streets, and street sellers have been removed entirely. Being unable to withdraw money from banks or buy a daily allotment of groceries has concerned many in the city, who tell USA Today they miss being allowed to “live a normal life.”
“I was heading to the capital to purchase some fruit and tomatoes but all roads are closed,” one woman, Joan Wairimu, told the newspaper. “I have been forced to return home and wait for President Obama to leave the country.”