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Garissa: Not Just Numbers

AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 8, 2015 (150408)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"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 -

For photos and images from Kenya on memorializing those killed, visit the

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" 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 go there.

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 again.

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?

Inadequate protection

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 protected.

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.

Easy recruitment

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 discrimination.

Predominantly Muslim-inhabited areas were also found to be lagging behind in development due to an overt lack of both private and public investment.

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 sympathisers.

To the ethnic Somali population in northeastern Kenya, there is nothing new in these actions.

Collective punishment

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 attractive.

Some recent government actions in the region have not been helpful either.

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 (UIC).

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 terror.

Kenya's involvement

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 al-Shabab-affiliated incidents.

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.]

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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