AT 9.30am on Saturday I drove past the Westgate Mall on my way to the National Museums of Kenya.
I needed a coffee after a late night, and contemplated stopping, but I drove on. As the director of the Story Moja Hay Festival, I had toasted the authors at a function for the literary stars from around the world who had gathered on Friday night.
In my speech I spoke of the magic of literature, poetry and the arts to inspire the young, and I announced that 3000 children had attended the festival, breaking all expectations.
These writers would bring the magic of creativity to a new generation that would use it to interpret their world and share their dreams. We were happy and full of enthusiasm for the weekend programme.
As we sipped wine and listened to African music, Kofi Awoonor and I had a long and rather serious chat. He had given a lecture at the Nairobi University and was jazzed up. He said Kenyans had given up on believing in themselves; he wanted Kenyans to thirst for power and control.
He talked about using economics as a framework for success, and I argued that it was dangerous to depend on economics as it would drive us to make short-term decisions that destroy the environment. I insisted that underlying everything we must strive for values that underpin our behaviour. I was talking about conservation of nature and the environment, and how this determines wealth.
"No-one would agree to a plan to demolish the Holy Family Cathedral to build a skyscraper that makes more money," I argued. "How could you even suggest that?" he asked, his eyes dancing.
That conversation seems so far away and irrelevant now. On Saturday morning the festival opened and plays started, lectures were on, hundreds of children were streaming into the grounds. I noticed other writers arrive, but not Kofi; he had gone to the Westgate Mall to do some shopping with his son Afetsi.
By 11.30am we heard there was shooting in the mall and we were assured it was a robbery. As the day progressed, the festival continued and the crowds swelled but reports of injuries and then deaths began to reach us.
By 6pm we were in shock, and 15 people were reported dead at a location less than 3km away. We could account for all our authors but one - Kofi. We knew Afetsi was injured and in hospital but Kofi could not be found.
On Sunday morning it was confirmed he was among more than 60 dead. Africa has lost a great poet and the world is poorer. How do we make sense of this? Al Shabaab has been posting all manner of statements on social media.
It makes no sense to me. Kenya is a country that is proud of its tolerance of religion and race, which makes the attack so astonishing. After such an attack it is easy to demonise Somali people, but I witnessed many Somalis donating blood and volunteering. Many people of Somali heritage are proud Kenyans.
Trying to make sense of something so brutal is tearing Kenyans apart. Why did al Shabaab attack the mall? What did they really want?
This was an attack by a small group of radical terrorists. The brutality of the attack and immediate statement by the Somali Government to Kenya suggests relations with Somalia are likely to strengthen, not weaken.
Kenyans and friends of Kenya have come out in great solidarity. But when the dust settles and the losses are counted, how will people respond?
The President of Kenya, his Government and the opposition have called on Kenyans for support and asked the international community not to issue travel advisories, confirming that tourism is the soft spot of greatest concern.
Assessing the impact of the attack on tourism and foreign investments will depend on the success of the response by security forces. It is too early to analyse the implications, yet amazingly Kenya feels stronger.
Kofi argued that Kenyans need to take responsibility for the destiny of the country. How right he was that economics are key, and yet it is clear that our values are on the other side of that coin.
This is an edited version of an article that can be read in full at theconversation.com
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