Remarks at Wreath-Laying Ceremony

John Kerry
Secretary of State
August 7 Memorial Park
Nairobi, Kenya
May 4, 2015

Rukia, thank you very, very much, not just for the welcome and my introduction and your words, but thank you for your amazing example, for your extraordinary courage, and thank you for still being part of this great family. We really appreciate it. Everybody here has such respect for your journey personally, and we’re grateful to you. Thank you.

Ambassador Godec, Mr. Kiragu, Ms. Selebwa, friends, members of the State Department and the embassy staff here, and those of you who were here on that terrible day in 1998 or who lost loved ones who were here, I am very, very honored to come to this beautiful Memorial Park and to visit with you in what is really hallowed space. And you have made it so welcoming and so restful and peaceful, which is what it should be.

17 years ago, this space was transformed in a single, terrible moment from a hub of commercial and diplomatic business into a site of sheer anguish and horror. Some of you were there, as I mentioned, and suffered severe harm or saw family members or colleagues die. It’s with deep respect and sadness that I lay a wreath dedicated to the many Kenyans and Americans who perished or were injured or who lost loved ones on that day.

Let me be clear: The terrorists who struck on August 7th, 1998 failed utterly in their purpose, which was to implant fear in the hearts of the Kenyan people and to divide America from the citizens of this country. They failed for the same reason that terrorists will always fail. Yes, they can reduce a building to rubble; and yes, they can even deprive innocent people of their lives. But they do not give anyone anything of what really makes life worthwhile: a sense of community, of looking out for one another, of creating something valuable and new, of living in dignity and honor. Without a doubt, those who delight in the suffering and death of others have actually already lost everything that makes life worth living for.

My friends, we know that the struggle in which we are all engaged now is not going to be over soon. Nearly two years ago at Westgate Mall, five weeks ago at Garissa University – the college – and at other times in smaller yet equally vile attacks, terrorists have brought more tragedy to families here in Kenya. So as Rukia said, words are not sufficient to express our sorrow, our outrage, or our wish that we could somehow reverse time and bring all of the victims back. But we do not have that power. We do, however, have the power to fight back, not only with our military and law enforcement, but also through something that may even be more powerful and that may make a bigger difference in the end, and that is our unity and the character of our ideals. Unlike some, we do not define ourselves in terms of hate. We are builders. We are teachers. We are dreamers. We are doers. And we can see proof that in Rukia Ali, who suffered and grieved with others, both American and Kenyan, who worked at the embassy in 1998; we can see it by giving and receiving strength from her colleagues – and look, she has continued to serve. That tells the whole story, marking this year the conclusion of 25 years of a career.

And we see proof of character in the example of Joash Okindo. You all know the story – I just learned it recently – of how this man stood at the doorway when the terrorists were trying to come in and pretended that he didn’t have his keys because he was frantically calling for help, but people didn’t know he was serious. But by keeping those terrorists from getting inside, they had to detonate their bomb outside the protective fence. And just imagine what would’ve happened if Joash had not kept his head and kept his cool. Make no mistake: There is more strength by far in the respect and solidarity that we feel towards one another than there could ever be in any terrorist attack.

So let us agree the only place for al-Qaida, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Daesh, and others like them is in the past. The future does not belong to them. The future belongs to the children who are laughing and playing right now in the streets of Nairobi, of New York, of Kano, of Dar es Salaam, of Mogadishu, of Garissa – children who have the right to grow up with joy in their hearts and the opportunity to build full lives of accomplishment and love, and to build families and a future. It is to them that we must dedicate our own efforts to apprehend and prosecute the guilty, secure borders, strengthen governance, invest in the health and well-being of all people, and unite across every boundary of race, nation, ethnicity, and creed to defeat terror and to enrich life.

That is our obligation, and all you have to do is read the words there: “May the innocent victims of this tragic event rest in the knowledge that it has strengthened our resolve to work for a world in which man is able to live alongside his brother in peace.” That’s our mission, and I’m proud to be here to work on it and to join in it with all of you. Thank you and God bless. Thank you. (Applause.)