1998 Nairobi terror attack: Kenyans turned to God, Americans traveled

Following the 1998 Nairobi US Embassy terror attack, many of the affected Kenyan embassy workers had turned to God while their American colleagues traveled.

New information shows Kenyans may have been more traumatized   by the attack than their American government co-workers.

“We have revisited data collected 10 months after the Nairobi attack and found significant variations on how Kenyan and American government workers were affected and how they coped,” said Josh M. Raitt, of the University of Texas, US, and the lead investigator.


To cope, the new information shows most of the affected Kenyans had turned to religion, family and staying at home.  In contrast, more Americans coped by leaving town.

“Significantly more Kenyans than Americans were involved in support groups and religious counseling.” says the study published last in the journal Psychiatry.

Similarly an earlier report by Samuel B. Thielman of Duke University Medical Centre, US, showed most Kenyan survivors to have largely turned to God and religion as a coping mechanism.

“The most helpful was religion, prayer, and faith in God, followed by family support, group therapy, counseling, and personal resourcefulness,” he wrote.

Unexpected though the team of psychiatrists, who compiled the new report, says the least common mode of coping for both groups was medication or alcohol.


Only seven per cent of the sampled workers reported drinking more alcohol and even fewer had tuned to smoking since the bombing

“Americans and Kenyans did not differ on proportions drinking more since the bombing, but more Americans than Kenyans reported smoking more since the bombing.”

Raitt said though the data were collected many years ago their current findings provide new knowledge about the mental health effects of disasters on US diplomatic personnel.

“This study may inform government leadership about potential mental health effects and need for care among diplomatic personnel exposed to future terrorist attacks,” the team wrote.

The study had examined the mental effects of the attack on 179 US government employees who included 53 Americans and 126 Kenyans.  

About one-third of these US government personnel the report say had developed post disaster psychiatric disorders though only a handful had sought treatment.

More Kenyans

The vast majority of the sample were directly exposed to disaster trauma, more in the Kenyan than in the American group. Kenyans also had more indirect exposure through injury or death of a friend or family member in the bombing.

Two-thirds rated the bombing as the most traumatic event of their lives, more in the Kenyan than in the American group.

The vast majority of the total sample indicated they were very upset by the bombing and about half thought they would die in the bombing. Both of these negative subjective responses, the report says were endorsed by a greater proportion of Kenyans than Americans.

Nearly one quarter more Kenyans were very upset by the bombing and twice as many Kenyans as Americans recalled thinking they would die in the bombing.

By Gatonye Gathura

About Gatonye Gathura 142 Articles
Science Journalist

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