Five years after the deadly Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Nairobi, we were suddenly thrust back in time when news filtered in that there was an explosion and gunshots at 14 Riverside, Westlands Nairobi.
The worrying sense of déjà vu engulfed the air the moment it became clear that a terrorist attack was underway at this business complex that houses the DusitD2 Hotel and other offices.
As is now the drill, it all started with a few twitter users asking what was going on and in time, videos of flaming cars were doing the rounds putting things beyond doubt. Unlike Westgate, this time I did not see any Kenyan claiming that “they thought this was a normal [sic] robbery.” And this for me marked a new dawn in the fight against terrorism. Kenyans were able to quickly tell they were under attack and got down to dealing with the situation.
Different security organs responded way much faster than they did with Westgate or Garissa and this time they managed to regain control of the situation in less than 24 hours. With a more organised command and communication structure, the area was cordoned off and people rescued gradually until all but 21 (may their souls find eternal peace) were accounted for. The Red Cross and other volunteers were on hand to help.
The most prepared section of Kenyans when Riverside happened were the indomitable force that is KOT. The “Kenyans on Twitter” were firing on all cylinders and taking no prisoners from the very moment the attack happened. First of all it took a very short time to for them to confirm what was going and so as that was done they all turned on their Ubuntu. Many advised those held up not to give up and not to do anything that may alert the enemy of where they were.
One twitter user who asked people to send him contacts of those trapped was quickly flagged as one not responsible for that and called out for trying to build clout off a sad situation. Through various WhatsApp groups, many checked on friends, relatives and neighbours by conducting a roll call. I also found myself checking on my friends in Kenya and worrying each time one delayed to respond.
As is always the case, the framing of African stories by western media came into question when the New York Times published gross images of the dead slumped in their restaurant chairs. Some other western media houses even questioned whether it was safe to travel to Kenya. All these got a thorough dress down by the might Kenyans on Twitter and regardless of how it all turns out, I am certain those media houses will be more careful when reporting about Africa again. CNN was once in this position and did not like it. Never again should the dead be stripped of their dignity by overzealous journalists.
The Twitter big stick was not only served to foreign journalists as many local ones also got called out for not respecting the survivors who had just escaped from the business complex. One TV journalist was actually schooled by the one he was interviewing on how it was not ethical him to give details of how they were rescued or where others were hiding yet the operation was ongoing. Journalists in the region need to be skilled on how to report during such moments.
Any Kenyan on twitter who tried to brew hatred against Somalis or Muslims was also quickly called to order by the rest. This was clearly not the time to divide a nation that had vowed to stand together and fight together against those bent to split its soul. Also, the importance of community vigilance was brought forward when it was revealed that one of the attackers had lived in a Nairobi estate without being detected. It is important to know your neighbour.
Terrorism is now a global challenge and regardless of where it happens the lessons we can pick can help any of us. Kenyans taught us that in such times, a swift and coordinated security response can do much in saving lives and property. They taught us that during such times, our dignity (Agaciro) remains paramount and no one has the right to strip our dead of the same. That we can use social media platforms to rally help and a sense of unity to hold each other’s hands and to remind the bad elements that we remain unbowed. The war against terrorism continues and we all have to keep getting better at handling such situations.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.