News | Student Life

Nairobi attacks hit home among students, faculty

  • RIPPLE EFFECT | Both University President Lee Bollinger and Vice President for Global Centers Safwan Masri have reached out to the Nairobi staff and were informed of the security measures taken in response to the attack.

As news of the terrorist attack in Nairobi rippled through Kenya and spread around the world, Columbia students and faculty reacted with shock and horror—especially those with ties to the country. 

The attack, orchestrated by Islamic militants, occurred on Saturday at Westgate, a luxury mall, and continued as police arrived to rescue survivors and hunt for those responsible. More than 60 people have been reported dead.

Fadumo Warsame, CC ’15, who was born and raised in Kenya, called her mother in disbelief as soon as she heard the news. 

“I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe the extent of what happened, and I kept asking her to clarify,” she said.

Warsame’s older brother lives in Nairobi, and she said that her mother immediately called him to make sure he was safe.

“My mom got in touch with him immediately. He wasn’t around downtown Nairobi, and we made sure of his safety,” Warsame said. 

Abdul Nanji, a professor of Swahili at Columbia, said that he was “very, very shocked and very much pained” to hear the news.

“One begins to think of the whole amount of cruelty that these guys have created, and the whole amount of pain and suffering that not only the Kenyan people but people from all over the world are going through,” Nanji said.

Nanji added that while the events in Kenya may seem a world away, the state of Nairobi concerns many on campus, especially since one of Columbia’s global centers is located there. 

Columbia officially launched the Nairobi global center—the first branch in Africa—this January. Belay Begashaw, the center’s director, was just on campus for the global centers directors’ summit two weeks ago

According to a spokesperson at the Nairobi global center, all staff members are safe and were accounted for at the time of the attack. Administrators at the center provided updates on security information as the events unfolded. 

Both University President Lee Bollinger and Vice President for Global Centers Safwan Masri have reached out to the Nairobi staff and were informed of the security measures taken in response to the attack.

Now, as Kenyan security forces search through the rubble of what was once a high-end shopping mall for bodies and forensic evidence, people are rallying to support the relief efforts.

A statement from the center said that the nation is in mourning and expressed that the staff shares this feeling. 

"Our staff are heartened by this news in the face of tragedy, and feel confident that the tenacity of the Kenyan people and the operation mounted by the security forces will prevail," the statement read.

Nanji said that the Columbia community should recognize the significance of this attack.

“This is a part of our world now, and this tragedy should be taken seriously and gravely,” he said. “Such tragedy shall not befall us anymore.” 

tracey.wang@columbiaspectator.com  |  @TraceyDWang

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