A Snake in the Gourd – #GarissaAttacks



When death is bounteous, and every flower is tattooed with the names of the dead, mourning is profound and prolonged. Sack clothes are worn and dirges clothe the air. The sheer immensity of death means it will not escape conscription into collective memory, into unwritten history books.  They become the fodder of national narratives. They become the eternal voices in oral narratives. Mother’s rocking their newborns remind them, for a thousandth time, how in the year XXXX, so and so happened and so and so was killed. And the children when they grow up, and marry, and birth – they too, when rocking their children to sleep will sing them a dirge-turned-to-lullaby about the year XXXX when so and so happened. And every day, old memories are etched on the minds of whimpering children suckling on mothers’ laps.

It is easy to talk about radicalization, while standing from a pedestal of self-righteousness, and wonder why him, why did he become that?

“He was a Kenyan Somali; a member of the Degodia Clan that was viciously attacked by the Kenyan military 31 years ago, and who have never received any justice since. He was 26 years old (I think) with a fine taste in suits. He graduated from University of Nairobi in 2013 with a Bachelors Degree in Law, scoring a coveted Second Class Honors, Upper Division. And his name was Abdirahim Mohamed Abdullahi,” Magunga says (2015).

“The City of Garissa in Kenya’s North Eastern Province (NEP) (Now Garissa County) has been on the top list of the most peaceful cities in East and Central Africa for over twenty years. It is the provincial headquarter of NEP as well as the administrative center for Garissa District. Named after a riverine local Pokomo elder or farmer called Karisa, Garissa became a recognized settlement in 1936.  Majority of the inhabitants of Garissa are ethnic Somalis.”

“For decades, Garissa had been under the radar of Kenya security and intelligence agencies primarily because the region was under martial law decreed immediately after Kenya’s proclamation of independence.”  Adan Makina says (2010).

It is easy to justify, using religion, because the argument is simple: A+B=C. Which may be true, but sometimes it is not that simple.

As we mourn with each and every family of the students massacred in Garissa, the question of why such a person can be radicalized, is as important as our exhortations of ‘no stone will be left unturned’.

In Luo, there is a proverb saying “thuol odonjo e ko”, literally translating that, “a snake has entered the gourd”. That is the situation we are in today, and Kenya is the gourd. Our own are radicalized. We know of histories of repression, disenfranchisement and the Kenyanness scale. We know how and why such histories can create people who have never nurtured any sense of belonging, who cannot be co-opted into our refrains of “justice be our shield and defender/may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty/plenty be found within our borders.”

What do you do when there is a snake in the gourd? Do you break the gourd? History can teach us something. We cannot rewrite history, but we can learn from it, even as we reflect on why anybody who is repressed or disenfranchised can be radicalized.

We can also begin looking at that other side of the coin.

My heart goes out to the innocent students caught up struggles they know little about, and the gallant officers who responded to a call of duty.

May you Rest In Peace.

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