Students return to Kenyan university nine months after terror attack

Education in emergencies

Students attend a lecture at Garissa University yesterday

Students trickled back yesterday for classes at a university in northeastern Kenya where at least 148 people were killed by Islamist gunmen nine months ago.

Security was tight but only around 20 students resumed classes at Garissa University, which had some 800 students before the massacre.

The high-profile assault on April 2, 2015 was the deadliest yet in Kenya by the Somali-led, Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab group. Nearly all the victims were students and many of them were training to be teachers.

Emotions were mixed for those returning. 

“I am very happy for the reopening…we went for our first lesson and we are really back to the university as normal,” said Shamza Abdi, a student.

“There are some memories of a lot of our friends we lost here, but despite what happened, life must go on… we just pray for our friends,” she added.

The gunmen had lined up non-Muslim students for execution in what President Uhuru Kenyatta described at the time as a “barbaric medieval slaughter”.

The massacre was Kenya’s deadliest attack since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi.

Most students, especially those who were not originally from Garissa, have transferred to other colleges. The students now returning are mainly those who come from the town, about 225 miles north of the capital Nairobi.

A young girl looks at masks with names of the victims

“We are really missing those students who were killed and we are very bitter about it…the people of this area were really affected,” said Hassan Kune Mire.

“It is very important for us that learning has resumed, and that we shall continue with our education.” 

University principal Ahmed Osman Warfa, speaking last week when teachers returned, said security had been tightened with a new police post built within the compound and a perimeter fence planned.

“I wish I was armed and trained on the use of firearms on that night, I would have fought with the attackers and at least ensure I have saved some of my students from their killers,” the principal said.

Witnesses last week gave evidence in the ongoing trial of five men accused of supporting the attack.

The four gunmen who carried out the massacre were all killed when Kenyan commandos stormed the building. Survivors described how the laughing gunmen taunted their victims amid scenes of total carnage.

Students, some who had to play dead among the pools of blood of their friends until they were rescued, said the gunmen shouted “We have come to  kill and be killed” as they prowled the student dormitories shooting those they found.

The university was formerly Garissa Teachers Training College, established in 1996. It became Garissa University College in 2011. It was the first and only public post-secondary school to offer approved university degree courses in the North Eastern Province.

Attacks on education across the world have been increasing in recent years. Students, teachers and school and university buildings were attacked in more than 70 countries between 2009 and 2012 – by armed groups, state soldiers and criminal gangs.

To counteract this, more than 50 countries have now signed the Safe Schools Declaration. It commits them to protect education from attack and to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse (with additional reporting from A World at School)

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