Joy and tears as Garissa University re-opens after terror attack

Kenya Parliament Majority leader , Aden Duale flagging off Garissa half marathon to  mark the first anniversary of Garissa University  College attack. [Photo: Abjata Khalif]
Kenya Parliament Majority leader , Aden Duale flagging off Garissa half marathon to mark the first anniversary of Garissa University College attack. [Photo: Abjata Khalif]

One year after the Garissa University College terrorist attack, life is slowly but painfully trying to get back to normal for the hundreds of students and faculty who survived the ordeal.

Indeed, the first anniversary was marked with events befitting tribute to the 147 innocent students who lost their lives in cold blood by the armed terrorists.

However, the spirit and resolve would not be cowed as was well expressed by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Abdi Golicha, who announced that they were waiting for 710 students to start classes under a national government sponsored scheme.

This follows its reopening after most of its students were transferred to the parent campus at Moi University in Uasin Gishu County.

On the fateful morning at the crack of dawn, four Al-Shabaab militants stormed the college and separated the students along religious lines before spraying them with bullets and engaging security officials in a fierce battle for the rest of the day and night.

The attack was the worst ever to happen to Garissa County, located in Northern Kenya, which borders the strife-torn Somalia. The Al-Shabaab terrorists target strategic places like churches, security installations and law enforcement personnel patrolling the town and its suburb.

Residents, guests and local leaders making five kilometre marathon within Garissa town [Photo: Abjata Khalif]

Residents, guests and local leaders making five kilometre marathon within Garissa town [Photo: Abjata Khalif]

Recently, thousands of people drawn from Garissa County and other parts of the country thronged the cosmopolitan town to attend the event organised by a consortium of local non-profit organisations in observing first anniversary of the heinous attack and to stand with survivors of the attack.

The befitting tribute that included statements made by survivors, inter-faith leaders, women, the youth, elected leaders and officials from Garissa County and national government as well as the University administration was preceded by a “remembrance marathon’’.

Thousands of people braved the scorching sun to complete five kilometre race in honour of the 147 students and other victims of terrorists’ attacks that have taken place in Northern Kenya towns of Wajir, Garissa and Mandera as well as the scores of Kenyan soldiers who were killed by the Islamist group in El Adde, in Somalia, early this year.

The dress code for the event was white. While the men wore white T-shirts, the women had on white headscarves and those who took part in the marathon tied a white scarf on their wrist to symbolize peace. The rallying prayer was that such brutal act should not happen again.

A sombre mood engulfed the event with survivors narrating harrowing tales of what they underwent while in the hands of the armed and merciless terrorists.

One of the survivors, Elisabeth Mweni, told Reject  that the four attackers stormed the college hostel and started firing indiscriminately before forcing wailing students, most of them female, to lie down.

Mweni who was near a wardrobe decided to crawl and hide under a pile of clothes for 11 hours before she was rescued by gallant Kenyan security officials who engaged the fighters and rescued her and some of her colleagues.

“I am lucky to be alive today. The attack haunts me to date as I don’t believe I survived what I saw inside the hostel and wardrobe that saved me from the blood thirsty assailants,’’ said Mweni.

Mweni played dead and went cold inside the wardrobe as she heard the attackers offering marooned students fiery lectures and shooting randomly after every 20 minutes.

“They asked many questions like why our military forces are in Somalia; and why Kenya has occupied the Islamic country of Somalia,” recalled Mweni. She noted: “I was keenly listening inside the wardrobe and students who were held hostage only shouted ‘we don’t know’ before the attackers fired at them at point blank range.’’

According to Mweni, the attackers forced students to make telephone calls to their parents and inform them that they were under siege and would be killed unless their parents called Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and appealed to the Government to withdraw the KDF from Somalia.

“They forced students to make calls to their parents asking them to plead with the Kenyan government to get out of Somalia as well as pull its forces from Kismayu and other regions they have taken from Al-Shabaab,” recalled Mweni. “The attackers were talking fluently in Kiswahili language, a probability they could be radicalised Kenyan youth who had been recruited by Al-Shabaab.’’

Indeed, true to Mweni’s statement, soon after the attack authorities took finger prints of the attackers who were neutralised and established one of them was a former Kenyan university student of Somali descent hailing from a privileged family based in Mandera town.

Garissa University Deputy Vice-Chancellor  revealed that they had received many alerts on the impending attacks and had taken measures such as deploying security personnel to strategic areas within the campus.

“We received many alerts and acted accordingly, but this particular attack caught the administration and authority flat footed,” said Golicha.

Following the attack, the university initiated internal inquiry to assist in identifying gaps, weakness and other issues within the college that might have facilitated the attack.

“We have already enforced adequate measures to secure the college and students,’’ explained Golicha.

Mweni revealed that her morning plan on that fateful day was to attend early morning Christian Union prayer session conducted in one of the university’s halls. But  she was stopped from joining her Christian brothers and sisters by attackers who stormed the hostel as she was preparing to dress up.

“My plan for that dark day was to join other CU students for prayers before attending lectures and this was cut short by the attackers who stormed our hostel,” said Mweni. “I later learnt that all students who were attending morning prayers were killed in cold blood inside the hall by the attackers.”

Mweni observed amid tears: “I am still saddened and traumatised by what they underwent inside that hall.”

Leaders attending the anniversary event stressed on the need for all communities and faiths to work closely with relevant security arms of government in dealing with any terror cells operating in northern Kenya. They noted that there was need for the Government to check illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons used in commissioning armed violence between warring communities and terrorist attacks.

On his part, the Leader of the Majority in Parliament, Adan Duale, who is the Member of Parliament for Dujis where the attacked university is located, stressed the need of cooperation between communities and government in weeding out bad elements and securing their towns and settlements.

“The Garissa university attack will haunt me for the rest of my life. It is the duty of the local communities to work closely with the Government to ensure such barbaric acts do not happen here in Garissa or anywhere else,” said Duale. He reiterated: “We need to work closely with the Government in ensuring that we flush out any bad elements and that illicit arms are not used to take innocent lives.’’

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