Miami students shocked by Kenya mall shooting
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 02:10
For the shoppers at Westgate Mall in Nairobi Kenya, Sept. 21 was a day of terror as eight gunmen attacked the building, leaving at least 68 dead and more than 150 people injured.
While the impact of this shooting on the immediate community was obvious, students on Miami’s campus felt the pain of this attack as well.
“All of my family is back in Kenya,” Secretary of the African Student Union Zelda Wasao said. “While we’re not that close to where the shooting happened because we live in a suburb on the other side of the city, my dad works for the UN, which is very close to that mall, and that mall is also where I would go with my friends to go and watch movies and stuff.”
Wasao, who was born in the United States but raised in Kenya, was told of Miami by an English teacher back in Kenya who had taught on this campus. While she is miles away from her home city, she said the fear of any of her family and friends back home being in the mall that day was very real.
“When I heard about it, it was concerning because I didn’t know if my friends were there, a lot of my friends frequent there,” Wasao said. “It’s a mall, you can’t really tell who has gone to the mall or not, no one really knew who was in there so it was scary because you don’t know if any of your friends were in there or not.”
Another student on campus, senior Katana Kazungu, was born and raised in Nairobi and said he also knew the feeling of worry for family and friends inside of the mall. Kazungu said the shooting happened only ten minutes from where he lives back home. He and his sisters spent several panicked hours trying to reach their father, luckily discovering that he was alright.
Kazungu knew someone who was held hostage in the mall for hours. She described some of the horrifying experiences she went through inside the mall to his family. He counts himself lucky to have not been apart of the attack itself, but is hit by the knowledge that it was close to being him.
“In addition to people we personally know being affected, the fact that a public place that I always went to when I was in Kenya was affected is what made me particularly concerned,” Kazungu said. “As a matter of fact, I had been planning on going home to Kenya for the semester, and chances are very high that if was home, I would have probably been at the mall spending my Saturday afternoon doing some shopping.”
Wasao said luckily none of her friends had been in the mall at the time of the shooting, so they were able to keep in touch with her and give her updates.
“I don’t have a TV, so I was getting all my information from the internet which made it kind of hard to keep up, but I really wanted to keep up so my friends, who were fine, would keep in contact with me and tell me ‘This person has been affected, this person has too’ etc.,” Wasao said.
It is not the attack itself that concerns Kazungu the most, but the fact that this is not the first attack that the Al Shabaab terrorist group has made on his country, but only the first to be widely publicized.
“There have been dozens of other attacks that have gone unresolved and it took the richer people and foreigners being affected for the government to swing to action,” Kazungu said. “It speaks to the deep economic divide that is a significant component of Kenyan society.”
Kazungu explained that the Westgate Mall is an upscale establishment catering to Kenya’s elite and expatriot communities, where shirts sell for as much as $100 in the local currency. The incident was made to be more tragic because the effected people were diplomats, politicians, and their families, Kazungu said.
“It is sad that it took the richer people being affected for this situation to be serious, while there are many poorer people being killed in similar attacks every so often and the news goes unnoticed,” Kazungu said.
Sophomore Daniella Owusuwaah was born in Ghana and raised in the states, but based on her visits to Nairobi as a child, she could not believe the violence that had occurred there.
“I was surprised because living in America you think shootings and things are more common,” Owusuwaah said. “But people in Kenya are more close knit. Kenyans are very peaceful, so I was very surprised to see the violence spread there.”
Wasao agreed with Owusuwaah on this issue, saying that so quickly people like to assume that “it’s just Africa, and Africa is a violent place,” but that is not the case. Kazungu added that he had never before seen violence like this in his country.