What the Garissa attack means for locals
The worst attack on Kenyan soil, after the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, occurred on Thursday morning in Garissa in northeastern Kenya. Four al-Shabaab militants entered a university in Garissa and killed 147 people, according to Kenyan disaster agency.
It is alleged that the gunmen separated Muslims from non-Muslims before killing the non-Muslims who could not answer religious questions asked by the gunmen. Two uniformed officers, trying to save students taken hostage by the gunmen, also lost their lives.
The technique of separating Muslims from non-muslims in deadly attacks has been often been employed by al-Shabaab in its recent self-confessed attacks in the country. Security analysts call this “antagonisms formula” between Muslims and Christian faithfuls in the country.
Analysts say that al-Shabaab is taking advantage of fault lines among Kenyans, such as religious ones, for maximum impact. But if this thinking is right, of avenging for Muslim lives, one would have to ask why the same al-Shabaab kill fellow Muslims in Somalia.
The attack comes months after 36 citizens lost their lives in neighboring Mandera County in November 2014. The attacks, which were executed by al-Shabaab, shook the country. Soon after the attacks President Uhuru Kenyatta fired his cabinet secretary for interior and national coordination and forced the then police boss to an early retirement.
These attacks also caused uproar with workers’ unions calling on their members, mainly teachers working in the affected county, to avoid going back to Mandera after the Christmas holidays, but instead report to Nairobi, citing safety reasons.
More than 500 teachers vowed not to return to the “insecure” county over the killings of 24 teachers in the attack. The 24 were among 28 persons killed when a Nairobi-bound bus – leaving Mandera – was ambushed in dawn by al-Shabaab.
The move by the unions affected education in the semi-arid county. Students in both primary and secondary schools have not received sufficient quality education since late last year because of scarcity in teaching instructors.
The burden on teachers who opted to stay has increased substantially. A teacher who taught less than 10 lessons per week would now be forced to teach 30 lessons in a week to make up for the short-fall. Normally, the teachers-student ratio was 1:60 which was bad even then. But when the teachers called it a day in Mandera, the ratio doubled up to 1:120.
A total of 91,000 students have been affected by the changes in the education sector.
There was a protracted tug of war between the teachers and the government, with the latter cautioning them that they risked losing their jobs if they would not set foot back to classes. Their demands included protection and increases of allowances to enable them have a smoother life in the hardship county of Mandera.
Critics have been debating this issue with different views on the topic. Some argued that the teachers are fighting for their rights and that the government cannot force workers to work in a hostile environment. Others, including area leaders, wondered why the teachers would wait for the insecurity issue to come up before stating their problems.
Appearing before the parliamentary committee on education, a teacher claimed that students go as far as ganging up to insult and beat their teachers. Police chiefs weighed in by stating that they have never received any complaints from the teachers alleging that they were facing mass harassment from students. All they demanded for was a transfer with “immediate effect,” a demand that the government did not take lightly.
The above issues in the education sector in the county have not yet been resolved months after teachers boycotted Mandera County. Retired teachers and volunteers were forced to take up the positions left by the teachers to make sure students are not left behind. Students who finished their secondary school examinations also came to the rescue to make sure the next generation of students did not lack sufficient education.
A similar fate probably awaits Garissa County.
The Garissa attack would bring more shortcomings than good to the already existing problems facing locals residing in the region. Residents do not have faith in the security tools deployed to secure the area. Somalis, who are the majority, fear the backlash and collective punishments, a tactic often used by security machineries whenever attacks happen in the county.
Non-Somalis who work in different fields in the area tend to move away and go back to their hometowns in fear of more attacks from al-Shabaab. Majority of teachers and doctors in Garissa County are workers who come from different parts of the country.
This means education and health sectors will mostly suffer from this heinous attack.
As I pen this piece, there are reports that non-Muslim lecturers and students who survived the ordeal have parked their belongings and are leaving Garissa County. This is a huge loss to the county since it would be a no-go zone for majority of non-locals who were planning to go there.
As days go by, Garissa residents are left with nothing but prayers that such attacks stop. Prayers that this attacks would not be a reason for long-term suffering the way Mandera County currently is.
Osman is a Kenyan journalist and a contributing writer for Sahan Journal.
Follow him on Twitter: @OsmanMOsman_