Saturday, August 11, 2018

20th Anniversary of August 7, 1998

This past week marked the 20th anniversary of the August 7, 1998 terror attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I posted about this last year, but this year was obviously hugely symbolic, as many reflected on the event 20 years on from the day.

In addition to commemoration events in Washington, DC and Dar es Salaam, we had a large official commemoration ceremony in downtown Nairobi at the August 7th Memorial Park, the former site of the Embassy and the attack. In the photo above, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec and Kenyan Special Envoy for Countering Violent Extremism Ambassador Dr. Martin Kimani lay wreaths with the colors of the U.S. and Kenyan flags in front of the memorial wall. I highly recommend a trip to the Memorial Park to anyone living in or even passing through Nairobi. It has an excellent, refurbished visitor center quite unlike anything else I've seen here. They've also just premiered a modern documentary with rare archival footage visitors to the park can see. Entrance to the park is free, they provide free wi-fi, and they only request donations.

This was a huge lift for my office, Public Affairs, and for me as acting Press Attaché (also known in the Department of State as "Information Officer") for the weeks leading up to the big day. Our phones were ringing off the hook with requests for interviews and invitations to cover the main event. At the end of the day, we hit every major local and international print, radio, and TV outlet present in Kenya. The Ambassador's excellent op-ed was carried in major newspapers and shared widely; you can read it in full here. We even got our hashtags #Aug7at20 and #iSurvived98 trending #1 and #4 across Kenyan Twitter.

Much more importantly, though, the 20th anniversary was an opportunity to remember the victims, heroes, survivors, and their families - as well as to look forward to the future. Even our own current Ambassador and his wife were actually serving in Kenya when the bombing happened. I was incredibly moved by the stories of personal courage and resilience I heard from those whose lives were changed forever on that day, especially because I was too young when it happened to remember anything myself.

We actually even found a responder who came from Fairfax County, Virginia (of all places) way back in 1998 to assist with the recovery mission who still works at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and brought him back to Nairobi for the commemoration. Even as an American, a Foreign Service Officer, and a Virginian, I knew so little about the amazing work done by DARTs (Disaster Assistance Response Teams) - in this case USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) - mobilized by the USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) OFDA (Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance). (I know, that's a lot of acronyms.) You can read more about their extraordinary humanitarian service around the world here.

Needless to say, this event was one-of-a-kind. It was a somber occasion but also a reminder of the fact that, as the Ambassador said in his remarks, that the terrorists truly did fail in their efforts to divide us. The United States and Kenya stand together as steadfast partners, stronger than we've ever been, as a testament to not only our mutual interests but our continuing shared values. That is a message worth remembering.

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