NAIROBI, Kenya (AP):
Mourners from various races and religions, Christians, Muslims and Hindus among them, grabbed handfuls of dirt and planted saplings at a memorial ceremony yesterday for the nearly 70 people killed at Nairobi's Westgate Mall exactly one month ago.
By design, no major political or religious leaders were invited, giving the crowd of 400 or so a family-only feel.
But the actions of Kenya's security forces weighed on family members who quietly seethed over allegations and newly released video images of Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers looting the mall.
Despite those lingering images, the organisers tried to foster a "We Are One" feeling, a chant repeated by the crowd in the wake of an attack that saw al-Qaida-linked terrorists spare some Muslims who could recall religious phrases, leaving behind non-Muslims to be killed.
"Today, we don't come so much to mourn the departed but to remind ourselves we built a nation that all can live in, young and old, white and black, Christian and Muslim, Hindu and Jain," said Karanja Njoroge, chairman of the Friends of Karura Forest, a sprawling urban park filled with hiking and biking trails where the memorial and tree-planting was held.
Prayers were offered to both Jesus and Allah. Mourners removed their shoes for a Sikh prayer. A squeaky junior high band from Kenya's Indian community played, while a red-clad choir of black youngsters sang in Swahili, the national language meant to bind Kenya's 40-odd tribes. Mourners crowded a narrow path running through the forest.
Vaishal Shah, whose friend was killed at the mall during a cooking competition for kids, said the wider Nairobi community needs to come together, and not just the 70 or so families who lost loved ones.
"The whole KDF thing is messing people up," said Shah, who noted that he was in Boston during the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, a period in which he said he had never seen a country come together so quickly.
"When families hear this looting is going on even as family members are dying, it's hard to come together when that is happening."