They went into a college and slaughtered 148 young men and women getting an education. It is an education I presume they hoped would help improve their lives down the decades. Most of the dead at Garissa University College were aged 19 to 23.
Nearly two decades ago, some people calling themselves the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), committed to governing Uganda by God’s own 10 Commandments, entered a high school in northern Uganda and kidnapped 139 girls and marched them off to the bush. They kept them there, some for many, many years mostly as sex slaves.
They say they are al-Shabaab, they are the LRA, they are ISIS, they are this or that. That they are political movements fighting for purer societies, drawing inspiration from some ancient religious texts and practices.
Despite their religious roots, they fight for their cause using guns. That is their choice. That choice would suggest then that they should attack government forces, forces that are trained and equally armed and mandated to stop them.
In claiming responsibility for the Garissa massacre, al-Shabaab leader said the group killed Christian students because Kenya is at war with Somalia. This is in reference to the Kenyan military’s participation in African Union Mission to Somalia.
What do unarmed students have to do with the presence of the Kenyan forces in Somalia? What did those shoppers at Westgate in 2013 have to do with it? What did the Ugandan soccer fans, bombed to death in Kampala while watching on public TV screens the final game of the 2010 World Cup, have to do with the UPDF’s presence in Somalia? It is not like the governments in Kampala and Nairobi hold referenda to get citizen support before deploying troops outside their borders.
Al-Shabaab leader reportedly said they are killing those who are against the organisation. So, how did the killers know that Christian students in Garissa were against al-Shabaab?
President Yoweri Museveni has always said, correctly, that armed political groups that attack civilians are a mere bunch of criminals, not freedom fighters with a higher purpose.
I don’t get it. The big lesson from the successful “revolutionary” struggles of the previous century was that you strive to peacefully win over the population in your areas of operation for you to get meaningful popular support. That is support that will ensure secure bases, reliable supplies, good intelligence.
Al-Shabaabs and the LRAs want to win over the people using violence: cow civilians into submission. We should be wary of these types. Once they come to power, they continue their utter disrespect of human beings, sometimes an entire section of society. Witness the mayhem the Taliban visited upon Afghanistan. Afghan women bore the brunt simply for being people born female.
That said, the governments in Kampala and Nairobi must come clean to their people. Kenya is particularly reeling. It is getting attack after deadly attack.
The Kenyan government made a choice to enter Somalia, apparently to stop al-Shabaab incursions that were affecting the country’s tourism industry. Surely, the policymakers in Nairobi must have weighed their options, built and examined scenarios, and decided to join the anti-al-Shabaab fight across the border.
I trust that those who made the decision anticipated reprisal attacks from an organisation with members willing to die to go to paradise and live life ever after in the company of scores of virgins.
If this were anticipated, why the regular deadly attacks? The usual excuse that the security services the world over use to deflect criticism is that, ‘yes, this attack happened, but you have no idea how many others we foil. So we are working. After all, there can never be 100 per cent protection’.
Right, but when in under two years you have serious attacks on your territory — Westgate, Gikomba, Mpeketoni, Lamu, Mandera quarry — the argument that you are preventing even many more begins to look wanting.
Meanwhile, lest the Garissa dead become just yet another statistic, check out the #147notjustanumber initiative on Twitter. The young faces, the little stories. That breaks the heart. But what to do exactly to end the madness?
Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor