4 June 2015 – Garissa was once crowned as the safest town in sub-Saharan Africa. It was a town where you hardly heard any kind of organized crime, including terrorism. It was the economic hub of the northern region of Kenya, and indeed it was the town that defied the odds and gave hope to northerners who were brutally marginalized by previous regimes.
Since Kenyan forces have invaded Somalia, the town that was rising from the dust was turned to a battlefield of invisible forces, and it has systematically collapsed before the helpless eyes of the denizens of Garissa.
And given the measures of police brutality still ongoing in Garissa, the greater northern eastern region is becoming the duo silent victim of al-Shabaab’s string of terror attacks and Kenya’s “anti-terror” measures.
The collapse of education
It is one month and counting yet the students in the region are still waiting for their educators to return. It’s estimated that 95 government-owned schools were shut down because the Garissa University College attack caused an exodus of the non-Somali civil servants, including teachers from the region. For example, the government has officially closed the only medical training institution in the region, Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) due to lack of security provided.
The university students that are on holiday are voluntarily trying to help national examination candidates to cover the syllabus.
The quality of education in the region was already wanting due to perennial marginalization and the Kenyan government’s reluctance to do something will be the straw that breaks the camels’ back. The situation is really appalling, and it’s dire enough to trigger a revolt.
It is exactly how al-Shabaab wanted things to be.
The Somalis were told to stand on their own and they became a silent victim of the war against al-Shabaab. They felt alienated and betrayed by their compatriots in Kenya. And this gives al-Shabaab a way to infiltrate into the Somali communities in the region and exploit them. Indeed, this is Shabaab’s self-fulfilling prophecy.
The endless curfew
In the last two months, as the sun set, a town of more than half a million people is reduced to empty streets and streetlights. The curfew has instilled fear and mistrust among the people.
The security forces both the military and the police take over the town immediately after the sunset and they are patrolling every nook and cranny, arresting the residents and releasing those who can afford to purchase their freedom.
In fact, if the police arrest and extort you, they will tell you to take care and run if you can because the military are coming. The curfew appears to be a money extortion operation, and it is not helping to secure the people, given other attacks that have occurred in the county since the curfew was installed. Instead, it inculcates fear in their hearts and causes mistrust.
The government should embark on a war to win the hearts and minds of the people. It’s not prudent to impose an endless curfew which hurt people socially and economically. The current warfare is different from the conventional banditry warfare where you can impose curfew and eliminate the bandits on the streets. You need the people’s input in this kind of war, and the more you sideline them and target them, the tougher the war gets.
For Kenya to win this war, it needs to use intelligence, not brute force.
Dire economic situation
The country is facing a dire economic situation. The unemployment rate is still high, the inequality gap is still getting wider and above all, thanks to the digital government, many investors are liquidating their assets and moving to Egypt and Nigeria.
The dire economic situation of Garissa is more fascinating. The dollar is hitting 101 KES, businesses are open for less hours because of the government-mandated curfew, and some hawalas are indefinitely closed. You can imagine how hard it is to make ends meet in Garissa.
With the only supermarket, Naivas, in the entire region closed due insecurity, there is reason to believe the town is as gloomy as Chernobyl. It’s not attractive to any investors and some had already left for other counties.
A young entrepreneur who runs a mobile phone shop told me that last month he paid last month’s rent from his savings. ‘’We open at 8am morning and sometime you can close without selling anything,” Mr. Mohamed told me. He added, ‘’The town is empty. People got panicked and left and I’m also reconsidering to move to Nairobi because the situation is unbearable. We have family to feed.”
To be sincere, Kenya has lost the war against al-Shabaab in the country. Its failure is derived in its inaction and misbehavior. But it’s in constant denial and doing little to prove it otherwise. Every step they take appears to favor al-Shabaab. As stated before, closing learning institutions is al-Shabaab’s main goal. The group wants to create many idle minds so they can use them to commit evil things — an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, as they say.
It is just a matter of time to realize this bitter truth.
Ahmed Hassan is a social activist and critic interested in Somali politics. You can find him on Twitter at @pansomalist.