Nairobi Bomb Day

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Nairobi Bomb Day (8 August 1998)

***** Location: Kenya
***** Season: Cold dry season
***** Category: Observances


The picture above is of the Nairobi bomb blast which occured on August 7th1998 - a day Kenyans remember with a lot of sorrow. The bomb went off at 10:30 a.m and was the first in the country's history. The target was the US Embassy in Nairobi and the death toll was more than 200 people with about 4000 seriously wounded. It is believed to have been carried out by some Islamic extremists. The blast literally brought Kenya's capital to a standstill as no one had expected such an occurrence. The 25 story building in focus is the Co-operative Bank of Kenya in which nearly 100 employees lost their lives. At the same time a similar bomb went off in Dar-es-Salaam, the capital of Kenya's neighbour Tanzania also just next to the US Embassy.

Photo and text :


The blast in Nairobi occurred about 10:45 a.m. (3:45 a.m. EST/0745 GMT). The force of the blast blew off the embassy's bomb-proof doors -- which were later used as stretchers to carry away the injured.

Injured people were rushed from the scene, as a plume of smoke rose above the Nairobi skyline. Windows were shattered as far as 10 blocks away, and bloodied clothing and papers littered the streets. Crowds crawled over the twisted and broken concrete and metal that was once Ufundi House, looking for victims and trying to free trapped people heard crying for help. As darkness fell, studio lights were set up so that the rescue work could continue. "We fear the worst. By the time the rubble is cleared, we expect to find more dead," said Red Cross spokeswoman Nina Galbe. The city's four hospitals were overwhelmed with the injured.

The Kenyan government announced an official five-day mourning period for victims of the bombing and ordered flags lowered to half staff. The government pledged $850,000 to a fund to help survivors and families of the dead.



At around 10.30 hrs on Friday, 7 August 1998, a huge explosion ripped through the centre of Nairobi. The target was the American Embassy, and the perpetrators were the until then virtually unknown Al Qaeda. One building collapsed, two were almost entirely destroyed, and in a wide radius scores of buildings were severely damaged and could only be ventured into after prior inspection and approval by the city authorities. Two buses were smashed by the explosion, and all passengers and staff killed.

This picture above may have been taken by a builder, working on top of Nairobi' tallest building, the Kenya Times Media Complex, who had a camera with him and the presence of mind to use it. These pictures travelled round the world, a unique recording of the event.

During and in the immediate aftermath of the bomb blast, some 260 people died, and another 5,000 were injured and in need of hospital treatment. Many were blinded in one or both eyes. A minor explosion had preceded the main one, causing people to rush to their office windows to check what had happened -- these windows, as well as computer screens, shattered into people's eyes. Many people spent months in hospitals, and when they were discharged, it was into a changed world.

Nairobians showed themselves exemplary -- those with workable cars spent all days rescuing others and driving them to hospitals, the queues to donate blood were great, people carried each other and encouraged each other even as, one eye witness said afterwards, every square foot of the city centre was drenched in blood that day.

And then, people donated funds, clothes, food, assistance. Counsellors got together and offered to make themselves available, for a period of months, finding bases in all the major churches of the city centre where they could counsel people on a voluntary basis. International aid was received but, per head of the survivors, it was low, and much depended on efforts made by Kenyans themselves. And those efforts were made, willingly and generously. Meanwhile, funerals went on. The last few bodies were identified only with the help of DNA samples.

A fortnight after the bomb blast, a National Memorial Service was held, processing from the bomb site, where the participants laid down single long-stemmed red roses on a heap of rubble, all the way to Uhuru Park. It was a solemn yet beautiful occasion and allowed normality to start returning.

Time has healed some of the wounds. The American Embassy has moved out of the city centre into an area which it can protect more effectively. Ufundi Co-operative House is no more. Co-operative Bank Building has been rebuilt, a showpiece of modern architecture revived. The survivors have learnt to live with their wounds, without their breadwinners, their spouses or their children, with new offices or jobs or troubles.

The bomb site has been turned into the 7 August 1998 Memorial Park, a place of peace and beauty, where a polished stone wall lists the names of all who perished, people of many faiths and denominations, of many tribes and nations, but almost all of them Kenyans.

For my personal story of the bomb and its aftermath, a rather long exchange of e-mails with the group of Godfriends may be read at the site below. It was a Friday, I was on a day off and drove past the site half an hour before the bomb exploded. By the time it did, I was outside Nairobi at a friend's house, and did not realise what had happened until I met total and absolute chaos on my way back in. A chaos through which we lived.

Despite all the horror, there were redeeming moments too, such as the National Memorial Service in Uhuru Park, just outside All Saints' Cathedral where I worked.

The pictures below, taken from Press reports, show the Wall of Remembrance in the Memorial Park on 7 August 2005, at the time of the annual remembrance ceremony.

Isabelle Prondzynski
... ... ...

Samwel King'ori (right) leads 70-year-old Pius Maina who was blinded by the US embassy terrorist attack, at the Bomb Blast Memorial Park during the 7th anniversary yesterday. Kingo'ri who walks with the help of a cane sustained serious spinal injuries.
Photo by Noor Khamis


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Rosemary Wanjiku, 9, in deep thought as she sits next to the plaque bearing the names of the victims of the 1998 bomb blast in Nairobi yesterday during the 7th anniversary commemoration. Wanjiku, who was two years old then, and her mother were injured in the blast.
Photo by Joseph Mathenge


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Kenyan victims of the August 7, 1998 U.S. embassy bombing sit at a memorial site in the capital Nairobi, July 26, 2005. About a dozen Kenyan victims of the bombing are on hunger-strike at the blast site in central Nairobi to demand payment for medical expenses and other losses they some blind or crippled - say they began their protest 11 days ago at the site of the old diplomatic mission, which is now a memorial park, to draw attention to their plight.
(Antony Njuguna/Reuters)



A U.S. Marine stands guard outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, after a huge explosion ripped apart a building in the Kenyan capital, heavily damaging the embassy and killing dozens on Friday.

NEXT click here for more pictures.

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company


More analysis :


The then American Ambassador, Prudence Bushnell, and the acting DCM at the time of the 1998 bombing, Lucien Vandenbroucke, have also written up their memories of that fateful day :



Read a lot more about this subject:

More pictures here :




Tanzania suffered a smaller bomb on the same day in its commercial capital, Dar Es Salaam.

Things found on the way

Rose Wanjiku, emblem of the Nairobi bomb tragedy

The mindless cruelty and barbarism of this act was symbolized by what happened to Rose Wanjiku, a tea-lady in one of the Ufundi House offices. After the building collapsed, she remained buried alive for five days as rescuers, including a special unit of Israeli soldiers, worked desperately around the clock in an effort to save her and others. She had communicated constantly with them from beneath the rubble, but died half a day before she was reached.

The tragic futility of her struggle for life touched millions across the world, and in Kenya, the long-stemmed rose became the symbol of the bomb blast victims. The National Memorial Service held two weeks after the outrage included Hindu and Muslim speakers, and the papers were full of praise for all Kenyans, whatever their religion or tribe, for having helped rescue victims in the immediate aftermath.

The site of the explosion itself, now a memorial garden (daily 6am-6pm; Ksh20), has become a place of pilgrimage where, every day, individuals, groups and delegations pay their respects to the victims of the bomb whose names are recorded on a plaque which also expresses the hope that those who died in this tragic event may rest in the knowledge that "it has strengthened our resolve to work for a world in which man is able to live alongside each other in peace



bomb blast day --
nairobi's roses
ready to die

The Nairobi bomb blast is remembered with the red rose, which became a powerful symbol in the days following the explosion. The last person alive within the collapsed Ufundi Co-operative Building, was a young mother by the name of Rose, whose life the rescue workers, Kenyan and international, desperately tried to save. Having survived for several days in the rubble, she finally died before they could reach her.

Kenya produces huge volumes of roses, mostly for immediate air freight export. It is on days such as St Valentine's Day and for those commemorating the bomb blast day that the Kenyan red rose comes into its own in its own country.

pictures of the blast
so many lives

Isabelle Prondzynski


One-line linked haiku :

bomb-shattered building under the rubble voices
an unexpected rose but not in time for rose



every one who reaches here
falls silent and heads bow--
August bomblast

beautiful whirls of
flowers laid at the memorial park--
August bomblast

a long list
of gone loved ones awaits you
at the gate

who can shut
down all the weapons factories?
we need peace

Patrick Wafula, August 2006

Related words

***** Peace (amani) Kenya

***** World Peace Day

***** Peace and War as Haiku Topics

***** Hiroshima Day also: Nagasaki Day, Japan


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Gabi Greve / Isabelle Prondzynski
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Unknown said...



Ella Wagemakers said...

Nairobi Memorial
for every buried rose
a fresh one

I can imagine it's hard not to be angry, and sadness and sympathy seem so inadequate. Humility is a hard lesson. Until we learn it, there will be more of these things. People of both sides should look into themselves and straighten up what it is that makes them do what they do.

a field
of burnt roses
summer rain