After Garissa Killings, Kenyan Catholics Seek Answers, Offer Solace | Allen Ottaro | CWR
The problem of the radicalization of young people is the most challenging battle as Kenya responds to radical Islamic violence
Students of the Garissa University College in Eastern Kenya should have been sitting this week for their end of semester examinations, at the end of which they would have joined their families for holidays. Instead, close to 150 of those families will have funerals for sons and daughters who were murdered a week ago today, on Holy Thursday, by Al-Shabab gunmen who singled out Christian victims. About 80 other students are nursing gunshot wounds in hospitals in Garissa and Nairobi. Some families are yet to locate their relatives, one week after the attack.
The Kenyan government declared three days of national mourning, which culminated in a candle-lit vigil at Nairobi’s Uhuru (Freedom) park on the evening of April 7th. Hundreds of young people turned up to mourn their colleagues. They expressed shock but also made known their solidarity with the families of those killed and injured.
John Cardinal Njue, the Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), while strongly condemning the attacks also announced that the Catholic Church would commit herself to “activate the parish networks for our Christian faithful to lend their support and prayers.” Cardinal Njue further invited priests, Church institutions, and other Christian groups to “journey with the victims and families of the terror attacks by providing them with psycho-social support at the Parish community levels”. This invitation from the Archbishop of Nairobi is, I think, very important as I suspect that once the media attention is eventually directed to other matters, the families will be left to their own devices. The support of the local communities, therefore, will be critical for each family, some of which—from the stories I have seen—were hoping that their sons and daughters would come back to help support them upon completion of their studies.
Cardinal Njue’s statement expressed hope that the Kenyan government would get to the bottom of the problem of terrorism and radicalization. A day after the attack, the Cabinet Secretary for the Interior stated that the terrorists had caught the government “by surprise”. The Garissa University attack is the latest in a series of terrorist attacks (since the Kenyan government sent troops into Somalia in October of 2011), for which the radical group Al-Shabab, with reported ties to al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility. (Ironically, Al-Shabab means “The Youth” in Arabic.)
In November 2015, 28 people were killed when a bus was ambushed by the Al-Shabab in Mandera, a town near the Kenya-Somalia border. A few days later, 36 quarry workers were shot dead in yet another attack; the Al-Shabab claimed responsibility. President Uhuru Kenyatta responded by replacing the police chief and the Cabinet Secretary for the Interior. New security laws were introduced and passed in the National Assembly during a chaotic session that ended in fisticuffs between members of the ruling coalition and the opposition. The latter felt that the government had gone overboard, using the pretext of counter-terrorism measures, by introducing laws that they considered retrogressive and infringing upon the basic freedoms of Kenyans, including the freedom of assembly.
However, the problem of the radicalization of young people is the most challenging battle.