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Garissa: Not Just Numbers
April 8, 2015 (150408)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"I want to go to a place. A piece of ground, also a place online,
where we can find the names of all those who have died for Kenya
since 1963. I want to know their names. I want to walk and walk,
listen and witness, know the lives of those no longer visible to me,
but whose blood mattered." - Binyavanga Wainaina
It is clear that the horrific attack on Garissa signals yet again
fundamental flaws in the "counterterror" strategies employed in
Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria, and other countries(see two articles
below for analysis on Kenya and Somalia), which have fueled rather than contained extremist violence.
Yet no one can claim to have a ready-made solution to provide security against
losing even more lives. And, as Kenyan writer Wainaina says
eloquently, memorializing the dead is one essential prerequisite
to finding a different path to the future.
Kenyans on social media as well as in Garissa and Nairobi have taken
the initiative, using the hashtag #147notjustanumber, launched on
twitter with a post by @kenyanpundit (Ory Okolloh Mwangi): "We will
name them. One by one. They are these 'young Africans' we speak of
all the time. Chasing dreams. #147notjustanumber"
This AfricaFocus Bulletin is limited to the statement by Binyavanga
Wainaina, plus two background articles in Al Jazeera by analysts
from Kenya and Somalia respectively: Mohamed Adow on Garissa and
Abdi Samatar on the Westgate massacre of 2013, plus a link to an
analysis by Murithi Mutiga of the Sunday Nation in Nairobi.
For summary article on the twitter hashtag #147notjustanumber
Statement by Priority Africa Network in California on solidarity
with Garissa and Chibok Girls' Anniversary
Kenyan links on mourning the dead and assistance to families
Kenya Red Cross http://www.kenyaredcross.org/ -
For photos and images from Kenya on memorializing those killed,
visit the https://twitter.com/hashtag/147notjustanumber
Previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Kenya are at
Previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Somalia are at
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Binyavanga Wainaina: "Kenya is not a nation if we can't properly
memorialize each and every citizen we lose"
http://africasacountry.com April 5, 2015
I want to go to a place. A piece of ground, also a place online,
where we can find the names of all those who have died for Kenya
since 1963. I want to know their names. I want to walk and walk
listen and witness know the lives of those no longer visible to me,
but whose blood mattered. I want the children I may once have to go
there and visit and walk through our stories. I want all schools to
We are not a nation if we can't properly and fully memorialize each
and every citizen we lose. I want to see the names ages and
photographs of those who died in Mpeketoni. Those killed during PEV
[post-election violence]. Stories. Forgetting is not good. It is in
these acts, our public commons reawaken. The politics of saying we
are not ready to face ourselves, the fullness of our pain, is the
same politics that allows us to ignore it when a Kenyan strips the
institution they are given to run, strips it dry, dry, and returns
like a zombie, a plastic rubber-band zombie in some new form, to
govern somewhere else again.
I want a public again. I want some random church choir knocking on
my door at easter to sing at my door. I want to see three million
Nairobians flood the streets to cry, and sing, and hug because our
children have been killed. I want to stop feeling that we live
inside mostly the private. I want never to hear the word selfempowerment
I am the product of a nation that empowered me. I am a child of
Municipal Council schools, I am a child of Kenya National Library
Services, of Provincial General hospital, Nakuru. I want thousands
of names inscribed permanently in Uhuru Park. I want each name to
have a story. I want to see the names. I want to see the names.
Stories. I want to see the names. Photographs. It is not enough to
send MPESA to Red Cross. I want to be a citizen of a nation that is
not just Electoristan.
My heart is dull with pain, and I feel the pull to cover it all with
that hard, now familiar Kenyan cynicism and move on, which really
means suck the very remaining soul of it dry.
Why al-Shabab has gained foothold in Kenya
Political and economic discrimination making young men radicalised,
according to truth commission's findings.
Mohammed Adow, Correspondent
Al Jazeera, 05 Apr 2015
Kenya grieves for 148 lives gone too soon. My country is in shock at
the cold-blooded murder of young students in their hostels and
lecture halls at Garissa University College. Garissa is the place
where I grew up and after Thursday's gruesome attack, life will
never be the same again.
The scale of the dawn attack – Kenya's deadliest since the 1998
bombing of the United States embassy, which killed 213 – became
clear as survivors fled the buildings during the course of the day.
Gunmen held hostage dozens of students and employees of the college
for close to 15 hours.
By nightfall the government confirmed that 148 had died, and that
the siege was over. Retrieving the bodies from the university
buildings started only after that.
Accounts from residents and eyewitnesses to the attack suggest that
the four gunmen had all the time they needed as security forces
failed to respond quickly.
Kenyans are asking themselves many questions. Key among them: Could
the attack have been avoided?
Many see it as a failure of not just intelligence, but also a result
of the security forces' slow response. "Why did the entire siege
last for close to 15 hours?" they ask.
Government officials say they had intelligence that al-Shabab was
planning an attack on a university. Why did they then forget all
about the only university in the region where majority of the
group's attacks have happened?
Garissa University College has the single largest non-Somali
population in any one place in the entire region. Its more than 800
students are from all corners of Kenya. It should have been better
The government ought to have learnt its lessons from the more than
100 attacks al-Shabab carried out in Kenya since October 2011. Yet
it seemingly hasn't.
Kenya sent its troops into Somalia in 2011 to fight the armed group,
which it blamed for a string of kidnappings that had affected
tourism in the country. But the northeastern part of the country has
not been adequately protected, with the region's small non-Somali
population there often paying the heaviest price.
No sooner had Kenyan tanks, troops, trucks rolled into Somalia than
al-Shabab launched a string of attacks in Kenya. It called them a
revenge for Kenya's military operations in Somalia.
As al-Shabab continues to lose ground in Somalia, its attacks inside
Kenya are becoming more brazen, frequent and gory.
The group seems to have found in Kenya the perfect ground to advance
its ideology of violence and bloodshed. It has established within
the country sleeper cells mainly made up of young radicalised Kenyan
youth, whom it's using for such attacks. This, of course, helps it
to show al-Qaeda, to which it is affiliated and which is a key
source of finances, that it still is a force to reckon with despite
its losses in Somalia.
The ease with which al-Shabab has managed to get a foothold in the
country has baffled many, but not the keen observer.
Kenya's Muslim community, which accounts for about 11 percent of the
population and lives mainly in the northeastern and coastal parts of
the country, has long claimed political and economic discrimination
by successive Kenyan governments.
The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) - an
independent transitional justice organisation created in 2008 to
retrospectively investigate human rights violations and historical
injustices in Kenya since independence - found that the country's
Muslim community faced institutional political, social, and economic
Predominantly Muslim-inhabited areas were also found to be lagging
behind in development due to an overt lack of both private and
The government's reaction to the string of attack by al-Shabab did
not help matters either. Kenya's Muslims, particularly those in the
Somali-inhabited northeast region, faced various human rights abuses
by security agencies, particularly the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit
(ATPU). According to Human Rights Watch's report - Kenya: Killings,
Disappearances by Anti-Terror Police - Kenyan Muslims were subject
to abuses by the ATPU, including extortion, harassment and arbitrary
detention. The ATPU, the rights group said, was reportedly involved
in the extrajudicial killings of suspected al-Shabab operatives and
To the ethnic Somali population in northeastern Kenya, there is
nothing new in these actions.
The Kenyan security forces have often reacted to incidents of
insecurity with one policy - collectively punishing the region's
inhabitants for the crimes of a few.
The most heinous of pogroms carried out in the region - among them
the Garissa massacre of 1980 and the 1984 Wagalla massacre in Wajir
- were a result government's efforts to deal with banditry and clan
conflicts. In just the Wagalla airstrip outside Wajir town an
estimated 1,000 people were shot dead or burnt alive by security
officials on an operation to stop clan conflict.
As a result of decades of marginalisation, northeastern Kenya - as
well as parts of the coastal region - lacks basic services such as
paved roads, schools and hospitals. These regions suffer from
poverty, high youth unemployment, rapid population growth and
general insecurity. Resentment towards the government is high and
radicals are able to exploit these factors. Chronic youth
unemployment, for example, makes al-Shabab's promise of some income
Some recent government actions in the region have not been helpful
In an effort to shore up support for a would-be government in
Kismayu-Somalia - one aimed at administering a buffer zone between
Kenya and Somalia - Kenya recruited young Kenyan-Somalis to bolster
the ranks of a Somali militia allied to it. Some of these young men
were picked from Garissa and Wajir towns in the region and trained
at the Kenya Wildlife Service training college in Manyani at the
coast before being sent to Somalia.
It's believed that some of these young men ended up with al-Shabab
and could be part of the gangs being used to wage war in Kenya. An
audit into where these young men are and whether all of them can be
accounted for might prove useful.
To win the war against al-Shabab, analysts say, Kenya will have to
re-think its approaches to fighting insecurity and and its relations
with its ethnic Somali community and Muslim population.
It's only when the community is made to feel part and parcel of
mainstream Kenya and used as the first line of defence that
favourable results might be achieved.
The Nairobi massacre and the genealogy of the tragedy
Abdi Ismail Samatar
Abdi Ismail Samatar is Professor of Geography at the University of
Minnesota, a research fellow at the University of Pretoria, and
member of African Academy of Sciences.
Al Jazeera, 26 Sep 2013
All people of goodwill and of all faiths must condemn al-Shabab for
its gruesome deed at Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. No
one serious enough about their creator can butcher innocent people
as was done in Westgate earlier this week. These culprits are indeed
faithless and must be brought to justice.
As traumatic as the Westgate tragedy is, it must teach thoughtful
Kenyans and others that the largest number of victims of al-Shabab
are not Kenyans, Ugandans, or others, but Somalis in Somalia. AlShabab
has imposed an incredible tyranny on the population and has
disabled them from rebuilding their war-torn country. The
international community, including Africans, have been not only
oblivious to the plight of the Somali people, but have turned them
into a disposable political football since the collapse of their
state in 1991.
For over 16 years the world watched warlord terrorists rape, loot
and kill Somalis with impunity. In some instances, members of the
international community used the warlords as clients to affect their
agenda in Somalia. For instance, the value of the Somali shilling
against the US dollar appreciated significantly in late 2005 and
early 2006 as the market in Mogadishu realised that there was a
flood of dollars coming into the city. The source of these was
American intelligence sources that supported some of the warlords
against what later became known as the Union of the Islamic Courts
First it was Ethiopia
The UIC defeated the warlords and created peace in Mogadishu for the
first time in 16 years and without any help from the international
community. Rather than engaging with the UIC, the US and its African
clients considered them as terrorists and Ethiopia was given the
green light to invade and dismantle it. Ethiopian forces took over
Mogadishu on December 25, 2006, and the prospect of a peaceful
resurrection of Somalia perished.
Kenya's behaviour in the Kismayo region and its involvement in
undermining the Somali government have alienated most Somalis.
The brutality of the Ethiopian occupation has been documented by
human rights groups. Resisting the Ethiopian occupation became the
rallying cry for all Somalis. Some of the toughest challengers of
the Ethiopian war machine were segments of the UIC militia known as
al-Shabab. Their valour endeared them to many Somalis and this
marked the birth of al-Shabab as we know it today. Had the
international community and particularly the West productively
engaged the UIC, I am confident that al-Shabab would have remained
an insignificant element of a bigger nationalist movement.
What does Kenya have to do with the mess in Somalia to attract alShabab'
s wrath? The massacre of innocent people at Westgate is not
the first time al-Shabab murdered people in public places in Kenya.
I personally know one of the Kenyan MPs that al-Shabab tried to
murder while he was consulting with members of his constituency in a
mosque in the Somali enclave in Nairobi. Somalis and Kenyans agree
that al-Shaab is a terrorist organisation which engages in heinous
acts. What is also no longer debatable is that Kenya's military
intervention in Somalia two years ago, and its occupation of parts
of Southern Somalia, have give al-Shabab an excuse to export its
Kenya's original rationale for invading Somalia was to protect its
citizens and tourist-based economy from al-Shabab's predations. For
many this argument seemed reasonable as al-Shabab was accused of
kidnapping several expatriates from Kenya. According to a US
official who spoke on condition of anonymity, there were credible
reports that the Kenyan government had planned on gaining a strong
sphere of influence in the lower region of Somalia long before the
Somalia's neighbouring states were prohibited from being members of
the African Union military force (AMISOM) which was operating in
Somalia, however, Kenya ignored this edict and sent it troops into
the country. But as the cost of the occupation skyrocketed, Kenya
sought financial help from friends but failed to gain enough
resources to sustain the project. The war's financial strain
compelled Kenya to join AMISOM.
Kenya's effort to crush al-Shabab and bring the so-called Jubaland
region under its control has also been costly in terms of civilian
displacements and deaths. It took Kenya over a year to wrest the
Port of Kismayo from al-Shabab.
Although most Somalis welcomed the liberation of Kismayo from alShabab,
they were dismayed that Kenya did not behave as other AMISOM
forces in the country.
Somali government and particularly its top leadership should wake up
to the fact that they have failed to inspire the Somali people and
move them into massive civic mobilisation that will be the most
effective defense against al-Shabab.
First, Kenyan forces refused to allow the Somali government to take
charge of the city, particularly the airport and the seaport.
Second, the Somali president sent a delegation to Kismayo to talk
with the Kenyans and also assess the situation in the region. The
Kenyan commander rebuffed the team and sent them back to Mogadishu
straight from the airport.
Third, Rather than turning the region over to the Somali government
and assisting it with securing the area, as other AMISOM forces have
done elsewhere, Kenya has been empowering a warlord who now claims
to be president of the region.
Finally, the regional organisation, IGAD, of which Kenya is an
important member, met earlier this year and decided that the airport
and seaport in Kismayo should be turned over to the Somali
government. Kenya did not openly challenge the decision during the
meeting but reneged on it after the conference.
Kenya's behaviour in the Kismayo region and its involvement in
undermining the Somali government have alienated most Somalis.
Furthermore, the regime in Mogadishu has very few resources and the
capacity to force the Kenyan forces out of the country. The African
Union and IGAD appear to have no desire to push Kenya to cede the
region to the government in Mogadishu, and as the stalemate
continues it has become another political distraction and a source
of instability in the country.
Most Somalis originally thought Kenya had been a benign neighbour
since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, but Somali feelings
have hardened since the occupations and consider Kenya as a hostile
government. Unfortunately, the terrorist group, al-Shabab, wants to
exploit these legitimate Somali grievances against the government of
Kenya. But most Somalis loathe what al-Shabab stands for and the
atrocities it has visited on innocent people in Kenya, Somalia and
others in the region. Steps forward
Given this, what must then be done to turn this tragedy into a
victory for Somalis and Kenyans?
First, all of us must tend to the injured and those families who
lost their loved ones. Second, since al-Shabab's main operations
base is in Somalia, and since it has inflicted the greatest damage
to ordinary Somalis, the international community should understand
that the terror group must be defeated in that country. To do so,
the EU and the US who support AMISOM must appreciate that only a
professional and well-resourced Somali security force will drive alShabab
into the sea. Consequently, they can divert half of AMISOM's
budget to this endeavor.
Third, Kenyan President Kenyatta and his government must heed
legitimate Somali grievances against the occupation and urgently
work with the Somali government and withdraw its troops from
southern Somalia. Finally, the Somali government and particularly
its top leadership should wake up to the fact that they have failed
to inspire the Somali people and move them into massive civic
mobilisation that will be the most effective defense against alShabab.
Such an engagement of the citizens will also be a fantastic boon for
Somalia's reconstruction. If the international community and
leadership in the region go back to business as usual then the
victims of al-Shabab's terror will endure a second death.
"Are the terrorists of al-Shabaab about to tear Kenya in two?"
Murithi Mutiga in Nairobi, The Guardian / Observer, April 4, 2015
"Since colonial times the east African country's north-east has been
politically and economically disenfranchised. The killing of 148
people last week was part of a fresh attempt by al-Shabaab militants
to exploit this inequality, copying Boko Haram's success on the
other side of the continent."
[article provides historical background and current analysis on the
situation of the north-east and on Kenyan government response.]
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