#147NotJustANumber A Country Divided

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April 14, 2015

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Uhuru Park Memorial

Uhuru Park Memorial: Photo Credit: Own

By now we are all aware of the gruesome, heart breaking and unforgivable tragedy that struck one of nation’s learning institutions. Right before the Easter break, Garissa University College was invaded by armed gunmen identifying as Al-Shabaab agents, and plunged into utter chaos as these terrorists took to raining bullets and horror upon the campus.

With 147 students confirmed as fatalities of the attack, many more remain in hospitals nursing injuries received on that day, while some of the deceased lay yet unclaimed and unidentified at Chiromo Mortuary as late as a day ago. To say the attack has shocked and horrified the nation, and the world at large would be an understatement.

The international media has gotten wind of the attack, said to have been done in a bid to get Kenyan troops withdrawn from Somalia where Al-Shabaab operations run largely unchecked. Outlets such as Al Jazeera, Reuters and CNN have run pieces around the technical facts of the tragedy, the reactions of the families, interviews with survivors and investigative pieces about tracking those responsible.

The international community, more so students across the world, have also come out to show their support and solidarity, albeit in sometimes misguided but well-meaning ways. Locally, the reaction has been unanimous in grief, horror and sympathy for those afflicted by this brutality.

Kenyans donated foodstuffs, other necessary items and their time to evacuated students stranded at Nyayo Stadium, as well as parents and families of meagre means in Nairobi to identify the possible remains of their kin. This was quickly followed up by anger at what was perceived to be the governments self-admitted failure to help manage the crisis and possibly save lives.

The justifiable anger was further fanned when Kenyans were forced to band together and raise funds for a RECCE company’s corporal Bernard Tonui and APC Masinde, both killed in the line of duty, when the government seemed unwilling or unable to offer this support for our fallen armed forces heroes that gave the ultimate sacrifice in spite of living in the abysmal conditions afforded to our nation’s finest.

This came as both the government and general Kenyan population’s response was called into question as responses to the Westgate terror attack – nationwide fundraising, blood drives, government sponsored private hospital rooms for the injured, visits by both the ruling and opposition leaders- was compared with the almost nonchalant handling of this incident on the opposite end of the social standing and wealth scale.

Disgust further abounded when a senior police official identified as Pius Masai Mwachi read the National Disaster Management Unit’s flawed condolence card and decided to add his own commentary, advocating that Kenyans not be content to “die like cockroaches” at the hands of terrorists. If this sounds unbelievable, and it does, the video exists to prove it here.

In the list of knee jerk reactions made by the nation’s government, closing down the Daadab refugee camp to help stem the growth of extremism in the country is possibly the most short-sighted and misguided of them all, second only to the (nonsensical) plan to build a wall between Kenya and Somalia.

What the ruling class seems to miss is that grand gestures cannot contain the plague of terrorism that now stalks the country when more grassroots issues abound: many are the reports of suspicious individuals acquiring all the documentation needed to prove their legality as Kenyan citizens if they pay a small fee to the officials involved.

This porous and diseased system, riddled with corruption which spares no thought for the future, will continue to allow dangerous elements into our countries and into our homes to carry out their gruesome plans.

Similarly, the disenfranchisement and disillusionment that often leads vulnerable young men and women into the clutch of radical organizations which promise jobs, a sense of community and a purpose, has yet to be addressed.

Regardless of this, Kenyans have continued to show their support for the victims and their families with the hashtag #147NotJustANumber used to document the names and faces of the deceased on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

People also continue to chronicle news on the survivors, fundraising efforts for those in need and calls to attend the memorial site.

Located in Freedom Square at Uhuru Park, volunteers have organized a commemoration of the lives lost, with art and personal messages from Kenyans willing to help keep their memory alive. Nearing the end of its run, the series of vigils will see a Garissa memorial concert this coming week from 04:00pm to 07:00pm on 14th April, 2015.

We here at Sidoman register our deep condemnation for what has transpired. We have all seen the fear sowed in Kenyans mature to its ugliest conclusion this week at yet another learning institution.

The University of Nairobi’s Kikuyu campus saw a transformer explosion strike terror into the hearts of students, who understandably assumed the worst had happened and Al-Shabaab had visited horror upon their campus. In their rush to evacuate the scene and avoid falling victim to another shooting spree, several students were badly injured.

Some, hoping to avoid the “attackers” jumped from the windows of their rooms and sustained broken limbs. In total, it is estimated that 141 students have been admitted to various hospitals as a result of the 04:00am incident. The most unfortunate consequence was the tragic death of a student during the panicked stampede that followed the blast.

Words cannot adequately express the depths of sorrow we here at Sidoman feel for this unforgivable attack. To put it simply, it is beyond comprehension.

With the ethnic profiling and vilifying of Kenyan Somalis that has been re-ignited, and the fear struck into the hearts of the average citizen, it is clear what the monsters who have brought this havoc down upon us are getting what they wanted: a divided nation fuelled by paranoia.

As the mwananchi on the street facing this new desecration of our soil, we have been called into an ideological war, not just for the day to day safety of our country, but for the united, patriotic soul of our very nation.

We can choose to band together and fight, keeping the departed 147 in our minds and ensuring that at the very least, this tragedy works for Kenya’s overall good by inspiring true change in the corrupt practices, apathy, and failing leaders that made this horror possible- or we can fall into internal strife and let fear determine the course of our country, giving the terrorists exactly what they had hoped for. Will YOU let the terrorists win?


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