Laban Mosi, a civil and structural engineer, has attended church only twice since 2013 – during the funerals of his father and his uncle, who died two weeks apart.
He was relieved that the events happened at Gendia SDA church in Kendu Bay, Homa Bay County, far from Nairobi, where crowded meetings made him uneasy.
His fear of crowds stemmed from the Westgate mall terror attack on September 21, 2013. He stopped going to church, visiting malls and attending political rallies.
That day, Mosi, who was 27 at the time, woke up and prepared to meet a client at the mall for breakfast. He made his way through the usually heavy Saturday traffic to Westlands.
He took the road towards the mall and down the slope, turning left to enter the parking lot. Then his phone rang.
It was his wife, calling to ask him about his whereabouts.
“I told her I was at Westgate, as I was just about to park my car. She immediately laughed and asked me cheekily to just confirm where I truly was,” Mosi says.
“She sounded convinced that I was not at Westgate, then proceeded to say that TV stations were broadcasting that there was an armed robbery underway at Westgate mall. Immediately after, I heard gunshots unlike those you’d occasionally hear during riots.”
Then chaos followed.
“I’m still struggling to piece together how I escaped from the parking bay. There was heavy and deafening gunshots, but somehow I escaped, and that’s where my problems with paranoia started,” he recalls.
By the time Mosi made his way to the main road, he says, it had been confirmed that it was a terrorist attack. Eager to know what was happening, he drove straight home to follow the happenings.
Trapped inside mall
He had confirmed that his client was trapped inside the mall but was okay.
“I was also grateful that I disapproved of my wife’s request to accompany me that morning. She was six months pregnant with our first child, and she had insisted she wanted to go because we would visit the mall often on Saturdays for breakfast, but somehow I just declined,” he says.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a pregnant woman caught up in that attack suffered a miscarriage. The loud bangs weren’t a joke.”
Because he had a young family and realised his only weapon was his car keys, he says, he decided to avoid churches, malls and large meetings. He had avoided malls until two weeks ago, when he accompanied a friend to Sarit Centre to buy clothes.
Garissa University attack
He explains that his paranoia increased in 2016 following the Garissa University terror attack. Even though he is grateful that he was not physically harmed at Westgate, he notes that the trauma of seeing people shot right where he was to have a meeting is not easy to deal with.
“For a while I kept hearing the gunshots in my sleep but they stopped. However, the hurt that remained came from the stories of people maimed, lives lost, property destroyed at a place where I was to be. My name could have been on the list of those who died,” he says.
Even then, he has never sought help from a professional therapist. “African men hardly do that. We suffer in silence,” he responds.
His wife, Hellen Mosi, however says he is progressing well and hopes he will make a full recovery.
“I understand why he wouldn’t go to church. On my part, I attended church services at Nairobi South SDA Church frequently after the incident. Covid-19 has been the only limitation. Going back, the news of the day scared me, especially since I knew where he was headed and that he had missed a couple of my calls before he eventually picked up,” says Hellen.
Very sad past
Mosi explains: “This anniversary is a reminder of a very sad past. I hoped that the Westgate attack would be the last, but the country has witnessed others since, including the ones at Garissa University, Mpeketoni and Dusit.”
He adds: “The government’s efforts to ensure its citizens are well protected are yet to be seen. The Westgate response was pathetic, the Garissa University and Mpeketoni responses were total failures.
“However, they did a good job when Dusit happened. But there’s nothing reassuring. We need to invest more in homeland security, more so on intelligence gathering. We need not wait for an attack then mount a response. Let’s dry this tree by cutting the roots and not the leaves.”