The Unforgettable Black Day
by Carine Umutoniwase.
Carine is a second-year student of peace and international relations at Hekima Collge in Nairobi. Rwandan-born, she grew up in Kenya and is no stranger to fear and violence.
(Peter Knox: Our more perceptive reader may remember that in the Forum of 1st December 2012, Veronica Rop mentioned attacks in Garissa. Here the same place is once again causing soul-searching and hand-wringing. It seems that our security authorities in Kenya have not made considerable moves forward.)
Three months since the dawn attack on students in Garissa, many families are slowly putting the events of April 2nd behind them. The university college has reopened its doors, but will never be the same again. April 2nd was a black day in Garissa. In the early hours of the morning, we suffered one of the bloodiest attacks on Kenyan soil since the America Embassy incident - a cowardly act against some in their sleep and others in prayer. Even with prior warning and army barracks close by, security forces arrived at the scene way too late: 147 souls lost - a perverse victory for the militants.
The Garissa attack on university students permanently scarred a country still trying to piece together events that have occurred over the past few years since the deployment of the Kenyan Defence Force into Somali in an operation dubbed "Operation Linda Nchi" - Swahili for “protect the country”: Westgate, Gikomba, Mandera, and Kasarani are a few of the killing grounds chosen by Al-Shabaab “Islamist” militants. Kenya has lost hundreds of people in terror attacks that have brought the country to the verge of religious division. Over this period, official strategic responses from Kenya have ranged from security operations to anti-terrorism legislation, to shutting down several mosques with the aim of countering radicalization and violent extremism.
A forum held at Hekima Collge on May 8th emphasised the need to counter violent extremism. The forum highlighted that Islam is being abused to inform a slippery ideology in a much broader 'evil agenda.' The religion has been infiltrated by fanatics who ignore that in a religion of peace nothing justifies violence. A battle is taking place for the minds and hearts of those vulnerable to radicalization. Christians in Kenya were commended for “turning the other cheek” to maintain inter-religious harmony.
The fact is that we will have other Garissas. The task lies in trying to prevent them. We should learn from other countries that have successfully tackled this problem such as West Germany and Peru. It is clear that the solution lies in instilling values in the young, as radicalization starts at an early age. Interdependence through the creation of a common socio-economic identity based on pragmatic leadership and a genuine fight against corruption, not least among our security forces, will make a great contribution to sustainable peace, deterring terrorism and politicized violence. These problems are social constructs that can be averted or changed for the common good.