TOO MANY, TOO SOON: an account of the terrorist attack on the Garissa University College

The heinous massacre of 147 people of which, 142 are students at a Kenyan University in Garissa, has brought the religious fundamentalist debate to the fore-front once more. Early on 2nd April, 2015, gunmen belonging to a Somali Muslim terrorist outfit called Al-Shabab invaded the fairly new campus of the Garissa University College. These men were unflinching in their approach, they said, ‘they had come to kill and be killed.’ 

When the gunmen arrived, their first target was an early morning Christian prayer meeting. Of 29 students there, just seven survived. “We were praying,” said Duncan Obwamu, 25. “We were in a circle in the room holding hands.” First, the barrel of a gun appeared at the door. Then it fired, striking a young woman leading prayers. A Shabab gunman stepped into the room and continued firing. Obwamu mentions that, even though the gunman did not say anything. You could see the ecstatic look on his face and you knew that, he was proud of what he’d just done. 

Since, the advent of the Garissa University College in 2011 and in 2013 when it first took on students upto its full capacity, there were concerns about the security of the Students and Staff. There was cause for worry too, the campus is situated just 90 miles from the Somali border and is a Christian-majority campus in a predominantly Muslim area. Further, it is not unknown to anyone that, Garissa has had a history of violent extremist attacks. 

The tragic attack of 2nd April, 2015 is not one which, the authorities could not have gauged. Foretellings of something drastic had been present for a while. In November, 2014 the students of the University had protested demanding security measures be taken up by the authorities because the students felt unsafe since, the campus was vulnerable to attacks. Further, many students had asked to be transferred to the College’s mother campus – Moi University in Eldoret. But, most of these requests were declined or students gave up being unable to the huge amounts of bribes that were demanded. Further, in an orientation for the students, they were told that security came down to the individual, with warnings that girls should avoid wearing miniskirts.  There had been past reports of locals throwing stones at female students in the town, apparently because they didn’t like the way they were dressed. Stanley Muli, 22 said that at his orientation last year, students were warned that local people had tried to strip a female student for wearing a miniskirt. Thus, amidst such a hostile environment the college continued to function and Students and staff stayed on campus but in a constant fear of their lives. Students and their parents were further infuriated on the question as to why Garissa campus was left so poorly guarded, especially after recent, widely circulated intelligence warnings of an impending attack on a university. Students from a neighbouring teachers’ college in Garissa were sent home Tuesday, two days before the attack, because of the uncertain security situation.

In the Garissa attack, the terrorists separated Christians from Muslims, making some recite verses from the Quran. Those who couldn't quote the holy book tried to flee the gunfire, but whizzing bullets sent them to the ground. Others scampered into closets and stayed there for hours. Images from the scene showed heaps of students, faces down, lying in pools of blood.

On the fateful day of the incident, as the few fortunate students hid in wardrobes or behind walls, they all wondered why the army was taking so long to arrive even though the barracks were close to the Campus. It's unclear why the elite team was stuck in the Kenyan capital about 230 miles (370 kilometres) west of the attack. Kenyan politicians and Nairobi-based journalists arrived on the scene before the team did. Students said Kenya’s army when they eventually surrounded the campus, didn’t overcome Shabab or bring an end to the killings. The elite team didn’t arrive until about 4:30 p.m., 11 hours after the attack, according to Kenyan media reports. The police ended the hour-long siege 30 minutes later. The Government authorities defended the delay and said that, they had done everything that could possibly be done. But, what is so ironic about this delay is that, these same forces had been swift in cracking down on the protesting students in November, 2014. In November, students angry at the lack of security at Garissa University College held a strike and demonstration. They demanded extra police guards and a fence. Although the fence was built, survivors of the attack said authorities failed to take the university’s security problem seriously enough. Ironically, the high metal fence made it harder for some to escape. There were requests the campus be relocated. In January 2013 and again last September, Garissa residents protested over insecurity for non-indigenous residents in the town.
Kenya's Interior Ministry named Mohamed Mohamud as the organizer of the attack. The senior Al-Shabaab leader is also known by the aliases Dulyadin and Gamadhere. Five men have appeared in court in connection with the Kenya university campus massacre on Tuesday, 7th April. The five suspects have been named as Mohammed AdanSurow, OsmanAbdiDakane, Mohammed Abdi Abikar, Hassan Aden Hassan and SahalDiriyeHussien. They allegedly supplied weapons to the four al Shabaab militants who carried out the attack at Garissa University College. One of the gunmen is said to be the son of a government chief in Mandera.

As it stepped up its crackdown against the Somalia-based al-Shabab, the Kenyan government suspended the licences of 13 Somali remittance firms. Kenya also published a list of groups it considered "terrorist" organisations and a list of entities it suspected of being associated with al-Shabab. Their bank accounts have been frozen.  The Kenyan air force also said it destroyed two al-Shabab camps in the Gedo region of Somalia, in its first military response since the massacre, on 6th April.

After the tragic attack on the 2nd, the entire country went into mourning for 3 days. Easter services were held in remembrance of the young lives that had been lost. And the Christian and Muslim communities put up a united front in this time of grief. Following the incident, not only Kenyans but young people world over were actively condemning the attack and grieving the sad demise of their comrades. 
Those who lost their lives were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and friends. They were students and dreamers, pursuing their ambition for a better life. Making it to university is a big achievement in Kenya, where many people do not get opportunities that open the way to a financially secure life. Many of those who died were the first ones from their entire Community to enter a College campus to obtain higher education. The loss of these bright starts, on whom so many had pinned their hopes, was bereaved by entire communities. As the family members collected the bodies of the deceased, many described the death of a child in the Garissa slaughter as not just an emotional blow, but also the loss of an investment into which they had poured money and hopes.

This incident happened many, many miles away from us. But, we need to be talking about it. The oppressors are forever at work but, in undertones and, it is for us to raise our voices within our campus and we must not allow for their hushed divisive ideologies to reach our ears and scatter us. Let the 147 lives lost be a lesson...Onto forward struggles...