Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright dedicated the interim U.S. Embassy in Kenya today, placing her fingers first to her lips, then onto a plaque dedicated to the memory of the 213 people killed in the terrorist blast that destroyed the old embassy.
At her next stop, the emotion brimmed over. After meeting with Kenyans who lost limbs, eyes and even facial features to the force of the blast, Albright's own eyes shimmered as she addressed the assembled victims. "I can't tell you how sorry I am for what happened to you," Albright began. "The United States is good. We try to do our best everywhere. I think that is one reason some people want us to disappear.
"But," Albright said, as her voice cracked, "we won't disappear."
The visit was the most emotional of Albright's six-nation trip to Africa, which included a call at a Sierra Leone rehabilitation camp for civilians whose limbs were hacked off by that country's rebels.
Albright had paid sympathy calls shortly after the Aug. 7, 1998, strikes in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where 11 more died in a simultaneous bombing. She returned to the Kenyan victims today, the penultimate day of her tour, because "there's still a lingering perception that we didn't do enough," said an embassy official.
The bombing, which killed 20 Kenyans for every American killed, created hard feelings among Kenyans who saw U.S. officials as preoccupied with the 12 American losses. Since then, $37 million in recovery aid has poured into Kenya, mostly to restore buildings damaged by the blast. U.S. prosecutors have charged 17 people in connection with the attacks.
As Albright moved among exhibits showing how the aid had been used, she vowed to make it part of her lobbying for foreign aid Congress would otherwise cut. "They need to know about this--where the money goes," she said.
A State Department poll conducted last May found that 42 percent of Kenyans felt better toward the United States because of its response to the bombing, with 54 percent of those citing aid as the reason. But among the victims Albright met today, there was hope for even greater assistance.
"You people can give us direct cash money," said Banyana Nankya, 59, whose ankles and feet were torn off by the blast. Behind the table of the Association for Physically Disabled of Kenya, which receives money from the United States to pay for Nankya's rehabilitation, she proffered a letter to the embassy seeking "further financial assistance."
Francis Gitu, 33, wanted a livelihood instead of cash. He worked as a hawker, selling shoes and jackets on the street until the blast found him in a bus beside the embassy. He lost his right eye and sight in the left is fading. A crutch supports a shattered leg.
"I wouldn't like a handout as such," Gitu said. He prefers a piece of land with rental housing to provide him income. "Americans should do better," he said.