8 August 2018

Kenya: Children Scarred for Life By 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombing

Mr Philip Munyao Kioko was one of the 213 people who died in the 1998 American Embassy bomb blast in Nairobi that shocked the nation and heralded Kenya's fight against terrorism and extremism.

Mr Kioko, then in his 50s, had just retired from the Prisons service, where he had worked as a warden. He was standing outside a bank, possibly waiting to withdraw money, when the bomb went off that afternoon at 3.30pm.

He was taken to Kenyatta National Hospital, where he succumbed to head and chest injuries, leaving behind an ailing widow and five children, four of whom were still in school.

Ms Magdalene Munyao, his firstborn, was 26 years old when her father died. She remembers that day as one that marked the beginning of a dark period that the family has not managed to crawl out of to date. "My father was the breadwinner, so when he died the burden of feeding and educating my siblings fell on my mother, a housewife. Our fortunes changed overnight. We went from being a relatively comfortable family to destitution," she said.

FREE EDUCATION

Her siblings, who were at the time in boarding schools, had to move to cheaper day schools to continue their education. Those were the days before the government introduced free education, so the children were frequently sent home for lack of school fees.

"My siblings lost their childhood. They were forced to work casual jobs, for example, as manual labourers on people's farms to raise money for school and food.

They all finished secondary school with these struggles, but none went to college. One of them developed ulcers out of the stress, a condition she treats to date," said Ms Munyao.

The family got little help from the government and aid agencies, only receiving a year's worth of food from the Red Cross. They are still chasing compensation from the US and Kenyan governments.

This kind of stress on Mr Kioko's family was not unique to them, but happened in varying degrees to other families whose kin were victims of the bomb blast.

TERROR ATTACK

In a study published in World Psychiatry, researchers found that children borne of women who were pregnant with them during the terror attack suffered behavioural difficulties caused by their mothers' post-traumatic stress disorders. "These findings confirm the presenting complaints by mothers of the study group as to why these children seemed to be different from other children, an observation for which the mother had no explanation," stated the report.

The children exhibited elevated levels of depression, hyperactivity and low attention spans.

Their creativity and socialisation into the community were also affected.

UNDESIRABLE TRAITS

The researchers found that these undesirable traits in the children were due to the psychological trauma suffered by their mothers.

The manifestation of this trauma was despite the fact that the mothers had undergone psychological interventions.

Even three years after the attack, the mothers were found to exhibit signs of hyperarousal, which is a state of psychological and physiological tension that manifests in exaggerated startle responses, insomnia, anxiety and low tolerance for pain.

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