A city of countless international students, Ottawa is home to hundreds of African students from abroad.
Many are young people sent from their home countries to gain experience and then go back home and contribute. For Mbugua Mwangi, that was exactly what he did upon graduating from the University of Ottawa almost a decade ago. Upon returning to his native Kenya, he pursued a business interest and ultimately found love in a young lady named Rosemary Wahito.
A month ago, he asked her to be his wife and shared the news with his loved ones. Two weeks removed from what would have been their wedding day, the couple became victims of the Westgate mall terrorist attack and lost their lives while shopping for a wedding ring. Somalia's Shabaab rebels quickly took responsibility and claimed it was retaliation to a past Kenyan military intervention in Somalia.
The loss of Mwangi has devastated many who knew him in Canada.
By the time I met him for the first time in Ottawa almost a decade ago, I knew his life story as it was an open secret to most. He was the grandson of Africa's one time giant Jomo Kenyatta and coincidentally the current President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta is his uncle and his own mother was a top Kenyan Diplomat in Ireland. They were distinguished Kenyans who excelled in business as well as public life.
Upon learning his death, President Uhuru Kenyatta expressed the loss of many including his nephew and his nephew's fiancee: "I feel the pain of every life we have lost, and share your grief at our nation's loss," and described the couple as "young, lovely people I personally knew and loved. Many of us have lost loved ones. Let us mourn them all as one nation, and keep them always in remembrance and prayer," the President continued.
In the elite mall where the tragedy happened, eyewitnesses described how Mwangi was outside when the carnage happened and returned to the mall to locate his fiancee after witnessing the commotion from a distance. Upon locating her, he decided to shield her with his own body and took a total of eight bullets and they both died instantly.
In Ottawa, in a Facebook posting it was his friend, Denise Siele, who eloquently celebrated his rich connection to Canada and Canadians. "I had the fortune of knowing Mbugua. We knew Mbugua when he was studying at the University of Ottawa, a kind-hearted, energetic, thoughtful person who had such zest for life, making people laugh but more importantly bringing out the best in people around him."
She continued: "Early in our university days, a group of us founded the Kenyan Students Association in Canada encompassing Kenyan students from everywhere. We reached out to a number of Kenyans, and Mbugua was among the first to pledge his support for the organization. He not only pledged his support, but also served as the very first Public Relations Officer (a role to which he was elected) for the Association. Under his stewardship, the association grew tremendously and ultimately was awarded "Best Student Association" Award on both the campuses of the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. (The association is now East African Students Association)."
Siele reflected, "he exemplified the very best of what it meant to be Kenyan. (He was) generous, giving, proudly sharing, robustly engaging in the community and mentoring incoming students. While words cannot give form to the anguish that his family is experiencing, please know that in Ottawa he left an indelible mark."
Like all innocent victims, his was a sad ending to such an enduring and giving international life.