Remembering the Attack on the Westgate Mall, Kenya

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One of the topics I cover in my book Success Strategies for Black People is Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

Imagine you went to your local mall and found it was under attack by terrorists. That’s exactly what happened a year ago at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. A heavily armed group calling themselves al-Shabab stormed the shopping centre.

In the siege lasting four days, 67 people were killed by al-Shabab, and by the security forces sent in to rescue the people being held.

As we mark the anniversary of the attack, it strikes me that a lot of the coverage and commemoration centres on the experiences of those who were caught in the mall, the eyewitnesses. The sound of shots, the sights and sounds of guns going off and people being killed. People running for their lives. The terror the witnesses felt and the ways that they survived.

While this has a strong impact, and is, of course, what is considered newsworthy, it sometimes sinks to the level of sensationalism.

Coverage of violent events in Africa rarely includes an historical context. Click here for my blog about the Niger Delta – it demonstrates how the news media blatantly manipulated the information rather than providing a clear picture.

It’s as if to say “These people are crazy, there is no rational explanation for their actions”.

While I am in no way saying it’s okay to invade a shopping mall and attack people at random – just want to be clear about that – there are reasons for the actions of the attackers. There is an historical context to these recent events.

Al-Shabab said they had attacked because of the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia. Whatever the reasons for their actions, those reasons were important to them. Important enough to take others’ lives or risk their own. Literally life or death. Until we find out what those reasons were, and gain clarity, we will never be able to dialogue with the attackers. We will never be able to have the kind of communication that can potentially lead to understanding – and peace.

The families of those killed are left to carry on without their loved ones. They are marking the anniversary by laying wreaths and remembering the family members they lost. We have a responsibility to the victims, and the survivors, to come up with answers. We need to find a way forward.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) teaches us that everything we do, and everything everyone else does, is an attempt to meet a need.

When we connect with needs, we can change a situation. In fact, one person using NVC can transform a violent encounter into a nonviolent one.

When I work with people using NVC, I see their beauty and their innocence.

NVC a defines need as “that which connects us with life”. Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of NVC, calls it a “language of life”. When we use NVC, we connect with our life force energy. This allows us to connect with other people from the heart. Then we can come up with practical, nonviolent solutions together.

We are forever applying violent strategies to attempt to resolve conflicts. In the long run, they never work. How many times, over the past few weeks, have you heard politicians talk about violent scenarios in the world while offering only violent strategies as solutions? I.e., “Shall we put boots on the ground, or shall we use air strikes?”, as if these are the only two options?

In the aftermath of the attack on the Westgate mall, the Kenyan security industry is reportedly booming.  But they are not emphasising communications skills – only methods of surveillance, weaponry and fighting skills.

We need new skills. We must learn to use other strategies – methods that work – or our species is not going to survive.

Zhana is the author of Success Strategies for Black People and writes the Ancestral Energies blog.

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