Garissa: Afraid of Rainbows
Statistics released by Kenya’s anti terrorism unit cite an attack every eight days. They’ve counted 133 attacks and 264 people killed since the two-year military operation. Then there were the 274 casualties in the Nineties bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi. And going even further back, there was the bombing of the Norfolk hotel a decade earlier that left 20 dead. The number of Kenyans killed in this ever increasing brutality exceed 1 000. We commissioned one of the nation’s finest investigative journalists to give us insight into what is happening in a land once known for lazy safaris and spectacular sightseeing.
Just in from a reggae DJ gig at a Nairobi club, I chanced upon this view of a rainbow over the Langata bypass. For us fishermen at the lake, it is a woeful sight. It signifies the end of the rains and the onset of a long spell of harsh sun. The dreaded season when fish stock disappears and competition mounts for dwindling supplies with neighbouring countries.
This contrast of beauty and hopelessness occupied my mind for a while. Then as I got closer to home my worries about the rainbow disappeared. From Garissa, a town where the Tana River flows forcefully from the Aberdare Mountains no matter the season, came news that shook me. Shook the world.
Al-Shabab gunmen, the reports said, had cornered 700 learners in a dawn attack on April 2nd. They were killing mostly non-Muslim students at Garissa University, about 200 kilometres away from our border with Somalia the home country of Al-Shabab.
The news flowed in torrents. I glimpsed at the sky again and saw the rainbow had vanished. Perhaps it was mindful that its novel beauty could no longer linger in the face of such ugly, such incomprehensible happenings.
A Wounded Nation
At the end of the day-long ordeal the attackers, four of whom were killed, had left a trail of 148 people murdered. Close to 100 were in a critical condition.
The nation too is deeply wounded.
The gunmen, one of them described as a law graduate and son of a local government security official, demanded that the October 2011 invasion and occupation of parts of Somalia by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) must end.
In his immediate reaction to the Garissa killings, our President Uhuru Kenyatta controversially ordered that more than 10 000 recruits, rejected by the Supreme Court due to a corrupt hiring process, had to report to the police training school as soon as possible.
The KDF followed up a couple of days later with an air raid inside Somalia.
“We bombed two Shabab camps in the Gedo region. The two targets were hit and taken out, the two camps are destroyed,” army spokesman David Obonyo announced.
In the aftermath Kenyans struggled to comprehend what had happened. And we began to question. On social media, inside public transport, in local pubs… Wherever I went, the same questions. Why did it take eight hours for anti-terror officers to arrive and eventually engage the killers?
Eight hours is the time it takes to fly from Nairobi to Johannesburg, enjoy an hour-and-a-half in the Rainbow nation and then return to Nairobi.
Many commentators agree that we have not learnt important lessons from the shocking Westgate terror attack in 2013 that left more than 60 people of different nationalities dead.
Security Buffer Zone
Corruption in government and within the forces has been blamed for the string of terrorist attacks that has befallen this country since the KDF trundled into Somalia ostensibly to pin down Al-Shabab far away from Kenyan borders.
Six years ago, security agencies together with the Somali Transitional Government and with the backing of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) embarked on a recruitment and training process of Somali fighters. Their aim was to confront Al-Shabab and create a security buffer zone between the border of Kenya and the Jubaland border region.
A parliamentary committee set up to study the process discovered that local politicians and government security officials had corruptly secured recruitment slots for their kin who were to be paid a handsome sum of up to US $1 000 (R 11 820) a month to join forces with the Transitional Authority Government (TFG) in its bid to crush Al-Shabab, particularly in the Kenyan border region.
According to a report last June in the Daily Nation retired KDF major and security expert, Mr Bashir Abdullaiah, was quoted saying that the plan, though noble, was bound to fail from the start.
“The plan was good. Train Somali youths and not Kenyans to create a buffer zone between Kenya and Somalia. However, it was infiltrated by Kenyans who received this training and later filtered back into the population and back to their families. Kenya should have handled it the way Ethiopia did to the ones they trained. Put them under the command of their military so that you can monitor them long after the war. These people are today roaming and killing people in parts of Kenya,” said retired Major Bashir.
Local chiefs among other members in the security chain were involved in recommending recruits for the training. Most of the recruits hailed from Garissa, notably among them is the mastermind of the Garissa attack, Mohamed Mohamud. A bounty of 20 million Kenyan Shillings (R 2,56-million) has been placed on his head.
Mohamud, a teacher at a madressa in Garissa, worked with the KDF as a commander in the southern Somali Ras Kamboni militia under the warlord Ahmed Madobe, a former Islamist commander-turned-Kenyan ally.
A Plan Gone Wrong
Due to poor planning and monitoring, most of the 3,000 trainees were left to their own designs and did not remain border patrols as planned. Many of them being Kenyans who returned home.
Revelations that one of the Garissa attackers was a university law graduate and son of a local chief debunked the myth that Al-Shabab terror recruits are wild-eyed, unemployed youth in Somalia. Or that they are Somali refugees found in the Kenyan camps and urban settlements such as the sprawling Eastleigh estate, referred to locally as “Little Mogadishu”.
A commentator on Facebook attracted a lot of applause when he posted:
“While Al shabaab are busy recruiting graduates of law, our security systems recruit tall, D+ materials with 32 teeth as if they are going for a biting contest.”
The order to recruit security forces formerly dismissed by the court has caused division among Kenyans. We are split between those who support a bigger police force and those who believe the president has subverted the law by admitting, “corrupt” offers into the force.
Corruption To Blame?
“He has announced he will ignore a court order on recruitment of 10 000 new police officers, halted because of corruption. By ordering their illegal recruitment, he is undermining his own anti-corruption crusade! And it makes our efforts to combat terrorism harder. For if people pay to become police officers and soldiers, how can they then take the necessary risks to combat terrorism or corruption?” writes commentator and activist Maina Kiai in the Daily Nation.
It is corruption that has allowed terrorism to spread so effectively throughout Kenya. This helps to explain our insecurity despite having one of the most formidable militaries in the region. Kenya, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), is among the top spenders in military budgets purchasing 19.8 billion Kenyan shillings worth of advanced weapons from 2010 to 2014, up from 919.4 million Kenyan shillings between 2005 and 2009.
“Entrenched corruption in the security system allows Al-Shabaab to move freely in and out of Kenya and carry out such attacks with ease,” said civil rights activist Boniface Mwangi in wire reports.
Arms caches are also abundant in Garissa and other towns along the border that has rightly earned the title of ‘porous’. Cashing in on corruption very effectively, the combatants managed to transport their arms to the capital city, the border towns of Garissa and other areas. Kenya has become an easy market for access to illegal arms.
I am very scared. I fear looking up. I don’t want to see rainbows. I don’t want to look down…. At the newspaper in front of me. I am afraid of even more terrible headlines that could emanate from just about anywhere in this once peaceful country.
I think of the Tana river running red with the mud of the last of the rainy season and I weep for a town that will never ever wash all of the blood from the walls of a place of learning.