Is Westgate a turning point for Kenya?

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To say it’s been a rough weekend for Nairobi shoppers would be the understatement of the year. On Saturday morning Kenya suffered one of the worst acts of terrorism on its soil when a gang of al shabbab bandits attacked the Westgate mall and took several hostages.

At least 62 are thought to be dead (including a nephew to the president himself), and scores more injured as it took a combine effort of the Kenya police and defence forces up to the early hours of Tuesday morning to finally end the crisis.

In all the chaos, what has stood outs the resilience of the Kenyan people in handling the crisis. As of Monday morning many had responded to the Kenya Red Cross’ appeal for blood, and several million Kenya shillings had been raised for the victims through M-Pesa.

Ordinarily, hopelessly divided on petty politics and ethnic considerations and all manner of other things, this event brought out a level of solidarity and concern for the fellow man that, would likely have defied the expectations of most Kenya watchers, if they were watching what is going on.

This response was climaxed by the president’s speech, which he gave in response to the attacks on Sunday evening in which he uttered the words which have been slapped on profile pictures all over Facebook

“We are as brave an invincible as the lions on our coat of arms.”

Even as the dust settles on this tragic event, one thing I am wondering is will the current level of solidarity and fraternity translate to a more cohesive and responsive nation in the long term?

Is it a spur of the moment thing, that will be swallowed by the daily grind of our people versus their people or has the collective and individual trauma driven us across a threshold? I mean the joke about Tanzania’s founding father calling out his Kenyan counterpart on building a man-eat-man society, only for Kenyatta to hit back with “it’s better than a man-eat-nothing society” does not exist in a vacuum.

We actually did much worse to one another in the Kiambaa of Uasin Gishu County and Naivasha in 2008, and as yet we are still dealing with those scars.

So are we now prepared to learn from this experience or will we revert to normal?

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