Tillerson pays tribute to victims of terrorism in Nairobi

Twenty years ago, “terrorists thought they could demoralize and destroy the Kenyan and American people” by attacking the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. “Of course, they were wrong,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said March 11 as he laid a wreath honoring the victims, both Kenyan and American, of that 1998 terrorist attack.

The Nairobi attack was coordinated with a terrorist attack against the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on the same day.

The secretary made his comments while visiting Kenya on the third leg of his March 6-13 trip to Africa.

As Kenyans and Americans join forces to end terrorism, it’s clear that “those who sought to divide us here have failed,” Tillerson added. “Our commitment to work together as Americans and Kenyans is steadfast, it is enduring, and we will build on the shared values and our shared future.”

Rex Tillerson shaking hands with woman in front of seated people (© Ben Curtis/AP Images)
Secretary Tillerson speaks on March 11 to survivors of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi. (© Ben Curtis/AP Images)

In his talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta a day earlier, Tillerson expressed U.S. concerns about the recent closure of Kenyan TV stations and threats to the independence of the courts. “A free and independent media is essential to safeguarding democracy and giving all Kenyans confidence in their government,” he said.

Tillerson later also said he welcomed a joint announcement by President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga as a positive step toward healing the country’s ethnic and religious divisions. Kenyatta and Odinga met March 9 for the first time since last summer’s presidential elections.

“The United States looks forward to growing our comprehensive relationship with Kenya,” the secretary said in a March 9 briefing with Kenya’s Foreign Minister Monica Juma. “Our commitment is not to one party, but to all of the Kenyan people.”

In his talks with Kenya’s leaders, Tillerson said, he also discussed the fight against terrorism — particularly the shared goal of defeating the extremist group al-Shabaab in Somalia, where Kenyan peacekeepers are stationed — and agreed to identify opportunities for expanding U.S.-Kenya business ties.

Tillerson visited Ethiopia and Djibouti before arriving in Kenya. He then flew to Chad, before moving on to Nigeria as the last stop on his five-nation tour.