The massacre of 150 people at Garissa University was meted by Islam extremists from Somalia, but one of Kenya's own attacked the college. In the aftermath, what has citizens worried the most?
The massacre at Garissa University College in Kenya involved the slaughter of nearly 150 people and invited questions of why the incident even occurred. And more importantly: were there warnings, and if so why did no one listen?
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Quartz spoke with hospitalized victims, like student Vincent Mungaru, who survived the attack. He recalls a warning a week or so before the attack on April 2. "Then the day before the attack some students were sharing a warning written on a piece of paper," recalling that "some students even posted on the official notice board as a poster to warn others who did not hear about the threat."
But many people assumed it was a gruesome April Fool's Day prank and ignored the warnings. Instead, at least five gunmen broke into the campus, attacked the guards, and students in the dormitories.
Somalia’s al-Shabaab terrorist group claims the attack was a response to Kenyan interference in Somalia. Four of the gunmen were identified as Somoli-Kenyan and the fifth as Tanzanian. But that doesn’t help those left to deal with the consequences.
"Why did they target us, why? I came here to learn, I have done nothing to anyone, why kill and maim us?" Another student, Rachael Ndungu, questioned the outlet. And finding the answer is vital since the attack occurred for nearly 15 hours as students were murdered and left to fend for themselves.
In the past several years, Kenya has attempted to push against terrorism through force.
Kenyan military’s battling al-Shabaab in the northern region that butts against Somalia and Ethiopia, two already war-torn and poor countries. In essence, terrorism is a power grab and many Islamic factions do not believe in the Western incorporation and education of others. Quartz also reports that late 2014 saw a butchering of 70 people in two separate attacks in Mandera and claimed 67 victims at the Westgate Mall in 2013.
Mariam Aden, whose son was a Garissa victim, explains the ideology of attacking education institutions. “By targeting students and their teachers, the attackers are sending message that they will paralyze every aspect of our life.” She continued, “I wonder where we will take our children if even schools are not safe anymore.” And that uncertainty is the core of what the terrorists want: the inability to progress.
Africa has faced an insurgence of attacks on education systems recently. Later this month will mark the one-year anniversary of Boko Haram kidnapping 276 boarding schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, and many still remain missing. As more terrorist attacks rock the continent, the victim numbers fall to the wayside and are buried in the annals of war.
Boko Haram and other anti-Western groups instill fear by not allowing citizens to expand opportunities. Trade unions are already calling for professionals to leave the area due to safety concerns, which is bad for sectors like public health and education. On the heels of that information is the fact Garissa was the first campus that openly integrated ethnic Somalis into the college.
Instability has rocked Africa and the Middle Eastern regions as the United States and many nations battle the rising number of well-funded terrorist groups that are looking to retaliate against Western intervention. And both Britain and the US warned citizens to avoid traveling in certain areas of the country, so the Kenyan government knew of the threats but seemingly did not take them seriously.
Just met 19 year old survivor who was found at Garissa campus this morning after about 50 hours hiding in a cupboard.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) April 4, 2015
The latest round of elections also provided a backdrop for potential conflict in West Africa. In 2014, President Barack Obama called a summit for the 50 African heads of state to work on a better foreign policy. The American president focused on the fact "Africa is growing, and you've got thriving markets and you've got entrepreneurs and extraordinary talent among the people there."
But reorganization of foreign policy is small comfort when colonization and imperalism remain in the minds of those looking to dominant through fear.
The Associated Press is reporting that one of the gunmen was Abdirahim Mohammed Abdullahi and the son of a government chief in Mandera County. His father reported him missing last year, under the assumption of joining the Somalian insurgence, according to Mwenda Njoka, an Interior Ministry spokesperson. Abdullahi earned a law degree from the University of Nairobi in 2014 and was considered an upcoming, brilliant professional.
So what inspired the educated man to follow al-Shabaab? That may remain an unanswered question as the gunmen was killed by the tactical forces.
Additional reports of the region show a swelling of Kenyan youths joining the movement and veering away from sanctioned government rule. And the fact that one of the gunmen to attack was Kenyan leaves many wondering about the stability at home.
On Sunday, April 5, Easter services were filled with families and citizens, looking for answers in the wake of such a terrifying ordeal.
According to the AP, the students killed at Garissa were Christian. Dominick Odhiambo plans to abandon his job in Garissa and return to his hometown. Looking for an answer from faith, he explained, “We just keep on praying that God can help us, to comfort us in this difficult time.”
And Bishop Joseph Alessandro notes that while an increase in security is nice, it doesn’t solve the larger problem of who to trust while living in a minority. Who are al-Shabaab? "You don't know who they are. They could be your neighbors.”
Kenyan officials are attempting to combat the extreme Islamic movement from gaining momentum by having parents report if children suddenly become violent or change perspectives quickly. But condemnation by the public against the same government officials seems to be rising quickly.
The long, endless hours that students and staff faced death compared to the 30 minutes to kill the gunmen leaves questions in the minds of citizens. Why were top officials dispatched from Nairobi before the tactical team?
The AP also reports that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised his government “shall respond in the severest ways possible" at the latest threats by al-Shabaab.
However, Kenya’s Daily Nation warns that the terrorists achieve their goal not just by murder but convincing citizens to perform ethnic and religious profiling.
“Kenyans are justified in demanding swift and firm action to arrest and punish the perpetrators and also to identify and eliminate the support networks,” but must not divide Kenyans “along sectarian lines” because that battle allows “merchants of death and destruction” to “get closer to their aim of inciting religious conflict.”
Feeding into the loop of mistrust does not help those fighting to save lives. Instead a divided country is easily conquered and the nation must stand strong against such horrific attacks. In the meantime, the world mourns with Kenya, of the potential future of so many students and loved ones.
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Sources: Associated Press, Kenya Daily Nation, Quartz