No quiet on the eastern front

International | After bombings, the peaceful side of Africa braces for a winter of discontent

Issue: "Y2K: Binary blowout?," Aug. 22, 1998

It is summer in America, and the double-header bombings in Africa, to most Americans, were just another form of matinee madness. Scenes of rubble from Saving Private Ryan meet Avenger-like derring-do. Something else to watch.

It is winter, psychologically, in East Africa.The sulphurous stink of wasting debris rising into tepid air holds no Oscar potential. Round-the-clock rescue workers race the fatigue, the sweat, and the sour-milk smell of flesh gone wrong. One week after the August 7 bombings, 450 miles apart at U.S. embassies in the capitals of Kenya and Tanzania, the number of dead stood near 250 and the list was not completed.

Twelve Americans died in the Nairobi blast, including Consul General Julian Bartley and his son Jay, who was working as a summer intern at his father's post. Ten people, none American, were killed in the Tanzanian blast in Dar es Salaam. More than 5,000 people were being treated for injuries from what are believed to have been coordinated car-bomb blasts.

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Americans have learned to take their Khobar Towers and their World Trade Centers with the morning's coffee and paper. The latest from Nairobi and Dar es Salaam mingled agreeably last week with the National League standings, the Dow Jones, and the box-office receipts.

But to most Africans, this kind of thing only happens in Oklahoma City-or on a Hollywood backlot. The repercussions for what had been the relatively peaceful side of Africa-Dar es Salaam actually means "house of peace" in Arabic-are wide and deep.

"Nothing like this has happened in either country since they gained their independence in the early 1960s," said Nairobi-based Southern Baptist missionary Bob Allen.

In the Kenyan capital, physical damage alone was more encompassing than most news reports indicated. Rick Lange, a missionary with SIM, was in a downtown building blocks from the U.S. embassy at the time of the blast. It imploded due to one of the aftershocks from the bombing, but he escaped without injury.

Missionary John Long heard the red tiles of his duplex roof rattle and hurried outside to inspect his home at 10:45 a.m., just at the time of the blast, even though he lives two miles from downtown.

AIM missionaries John and Maureen Becker first learned of the bombing when they encountered its victims: hundreds of bloody Kenyans walking the several miles from the city center to its only large hospitals, Kenyatta National Hospital and Nairobi Hospital. By day's end those facilities would be inundated with more than 1,000 victims-too many to treat because of inadequate, understaffed, and undersupplied medical facilities. Dozens of the most seriously injured were airlifted to South Africa or to U.S. military bases in Germany.

No matter where on the continent they might be treated, victims faced the specter of contracting AIDS from tainted blood. According to a New York Times article the day before the blast, four million Africans were infected with HIV last year alone. Furthermore, basic testing for the disease is at an all-time low because most hospitals cannot afford it. In the hours following the embassy bombings, just when the need for transfusions was greatest, International Red Cross officials acknowledged they did not know what kind of screenings were being carried out on blood donations. U.S. military transports ferried in hundreds of units of presumably untainted blood, and missionaries signed up to donate their own.

Mr. Lange's wife Irene, a registered nurse, and another SIM staff member, Ruth Maxwell, volunteered last week at local hospitals stretched beyond capacity. Ms. Maxwell said Kenyatta admitted 500 patients on Friday, many of whom suffered facial wounds from broken glass. Survivors told her, "When the first bomb went off, we went to the windows to see what was happening. When the second bomb exploded seconds later, hundreds of us had glass exploding in our faces."

Of the mission agencies in Nairobi contacted by WORLD, none reported deaths or serious injuries among their workers. Nearly all, however, could report some connection to the tragedy.

Mr. Long said missionaries are "depressed for all those who are suffering, and over the rape of our peace."

Many who have viewed the scene of the crime believe authorities and the news media have underestimated death tolls. Buildings as much as 300 yards away were seriously damaged, some losing roofs and walls.Three city buses-likely carrying more than 50 passengers each-appeared blown up near the embassy.

Karl Dortzbach, whose missionary work has involved reconciliation efforts between warring Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, said the bombing has not altered his sense of security. Although the bomb was clearly meant for the U.S. embassy, he does not believe that means all Americans are targets. "Had the bombers wanted to target [only] Americans, they could have chosen more American-saturated places," he said.


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