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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Westgate still resonates with Kenyans one year later

One year ago, the Kenyan capital of Nairobi was rocked by an atrocious Islamic fundamentalist attack at an unexpected place: a shopping mall. The perpetrators were members of Al-Shabaab, a Somali-based terrorist group that claimed the attack was revenge for the Kenyan government’s decision to deploy the military to Somalia to fight the terrorist group. For four days, the Westgate mall was under siege. Smoke billowed from the building, and the air stank of blood and death. The attack finally came to an end on September 24. At least 67 people were killed and hundreds injured, including all of the shooters. 
Kenya paused on the 21st to remember this heartbreaking event, with heavily-armed security patrols working to keep the event quiet. The commemoration was tearful and melancholy, as a memorial plaque was unveiled with the words “Rest In Peace, Dear Friends” adorning it. A candlelight vigil was organized as well as musical performances and interfaith prayers.

Sadly, video evidence shows that the Kenyan soldiers who helped liberate the massive mall thenlooted nearly every shop in the place. Most of the people who died were members of diplomatic communities and the Kenyan political and business elite. All the gunmen in the mall during the siege were killed, and a commission was established to investigate the possible presence of al-Shabaab in Kenya.

Since the attack, Kenya has vowed to investigate the shortcomings of the actions of its soldiers. The Somali president also vowed to stand with the Kenyan people in the wake of this atrocity. Kenya is a mostly Christian nation, with a smaller Muslim minority. Much of the country, however, borders the chaotic state of Somalia.

Unfortunately, Kenya has a long way to go in terms of development, and working to better the lives of ordinary Kenyans. Poverty and a lack of education, two problems that often go together, are prevalent in Kenya, and drive people to desperate measures. This is not to say Kenya’s lack of development caused the Westgate attack. It didn’t. Security can always be improved and preventing another event like this from happening, though. Kenyan troops were successful in ending the bloodshed in the mall, but the looting during and afterwards is embarrassing and insulting to those who were in captivity.

Terrorists are considered terrorists because they destroy things to incite fear in people. They are destructive to life, property, and to modern ideals. So Kenya, like other nations that have been affected by attacks, should act in a constructive manner. Finding those who are responsible is important and should be encouraged. But for the long term, the Kenyan government can start by launching programs to secure and develop their nation for the sake of the people.

The Oscar Pistorius Case: Another Frustrating Media Circus

On September 11, a verdict was handed down about South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, who, on Feb. 14, 2013, shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius was found not guilty of murder, but was convicted of “culpable homicide,” which in South Africa, is defined as "the unlawful negligent killing of a human being," not dissimilar to manslaughter. According to the New York Times, the sentence could result with up to 15 years in prison, but it’s likely the sentence will be light considering the history of that specific sentence. His sentence will be decided in slightly less than a month, on the October 13. 
Oscar Pistorius, on the surface, had the perfect life. Despite a double amputation of his lower legs as a child, he worked to overcome that setback and became a fantastic athlete. He was handsome, charismatic, had a beautiful girlfriend, and above all, he was a successful athlete. He even he carried South Africa’s flag in the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics. Pistorius won two gold medals and a silver in London, and performed similarly well in Athens and Beijing. His achievements earned him the nickname “Blade Runner,” after his blade-like prosthetics. Today, his name is forever tarnished by his actions.

Living in America, this type of case is hardly a new concept. The long, drawn-out, seemingly omnipresent coverage that South Africa seemed to receive reeked of the kind of sensationalist tabloid-esque coverage HLN likes to do. We had to deal with the controversy of the trials of Jodi Arias, O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and the list goes on.

Now, all these events were awful, heartbreaking events. I do not wish to take a side on any of these cases because I am not an authority on the law in the United States, let alone in South Africa. All of these events were deeply regrettable regardless of any verdict.

The question we should ask ourselves is Why are these stories turned into something the whole country must know about? Doesn’t this type of coverage only amplify the extremely uncomfortable situation everyone directly related to the case is already in? What business do I have weighing in on a case that I have no connection to? This “armchair lawyer” syndrome that seems to be prevalent is not healthy, nor is it productive. It creates a court of public opinion that all too often influences justice systems. I don’t know if Oscar Pistorius deliberately killed his girlfriend. I don’t know if the verdict that was handed down is just or not. I suppose I can hope that it was correct and just but I will likely never know for sure. And this applies to any case like this, regardless of country.