I’d always planned on doing a post about this, figuring I’d wait for the dust to settle, victims laid to rest, fear subsiding and grief taking on a more reflective perspective. But as with all the tragedies that occur up in the north, in that region we consider not Kenya (not Nairobi), Garissa faded away into yet another statistic. 148(?) lives lost in most brutal fashion. And life went on. As it should, I guess, the world doesn’t stop turning for anyone. Back in...I couldn’t remember when exactly the attack happened, had to do a quick google (it says something about the sheer amount of bad news that floods our headlines every day if I can’t remember when exactly Garissa happened, either that or it speaks to my apathy, then and now, but more on that later)...back in April, I saved a photo of the massacre on my phone, the shot of the courtyard. I kept the photo as a reminder to write this, but also as a reminder that security, life, is not a given in this country, not in any country the way things are going.
Before I get into it, we need to talk about these pictures of dead people. I meant to use the photo in this post, but the constant stream of dead bodies on the internet has finally convinced me that these pictures add no value. If anything, they detract from what value there could possibly be in the lurid description of violence. Those gory images often reduce complex situations to simple images, stripping the nuance away and replacing it with our most basic emotions, fear, disgust, hate. Now there’s a difference between photojournalism, which is telling a story through pictures, and simply putting up shocking pictures. What we tend to do, us purveyors of internet outrage, is use gruesome images to grab your attention, attention we should actually be grabbing with our arguments. It’s a trick, see, sleight of hand, done to distract you from the fact that I, we, don’t have the words to convince you.
The one time I used a photo of dead people on the blog was the murder of the teachers in Mandera. My logic then was that people who were not actively on social media, people relying on mainstream media for their news, these people would never see the horror of that attack, or any of the other attacks that happen with frightening frequency in the frontier districts. I thought, misguidedly I now think, that everyone needed to see a skull split open, because that would get everyone suitably enraged, because outrage would somehow spark some sort of change. I didn’t elaborate on said change, mine was simply to trigger something, anything. The arrogance of the self righteous, no? I don’t need to see people who look like me lying dead in a pool of blood to feel sympathy, or fear, and I’m pretty sure you don’t either. More to the point, we shouldn’t need to see pictures of dead kids to believe the kids are dead, or should we? Are we that accustomed to death? I’m not, and I hope I never am. No more photos of dead people, tafadhali.
Living in the capital, it’s easy to forget that we’re in the middle of a dirty war and there are Kenyans out there on the frontlines, dying. Only they’re not soldiers, are they? After Westgate, I was eager to resume my normal routine, finding a sense of calm in the irrepressible spirit of a city that never truly sleeps. Nairobi may appear to shut down, but those of us who wander about after dark know it never does, not really. There was a certain pride I felt when the city kept going, despite the horror (terror?), but even then I was always cognisant of my good fortune, that I didn’t lose anyone, that I could pick up and move on virtually unscathed. Garissa was even more removed. These were random students far away in a distant town. Some of them were from Nairobi, for all I know one or two may have been from my shags up the highway. But the college was, is, unfamiliar to me. Garissa town is unfamiliar to me. Even the surrounding landscape is unfamiliar to my Kiambu born and bred ass. It might as well have been Bamako.
How shitty is it that I can say that without much shame? I’ll be completely honest with you, partly because of the (vitriolic) bickering between the pro and anti government types, partly because of the ‘watch me grieve more than the bereaved’ hand wringing from the activist set, partly because of the dodgy press coverage on TV, partly because of never ending stream of grim news from the frontier districts, and partly because of my own apathy, I was oddly removed from Garissa. Odd, considering I’m otherwise concerned about kids dying. I consider these students kids, too young to die at the hands of delusional idiots fighting a misguided war that can never be won. It’s not that older people deserve to die, but there’s something about burying nineteen, twenty year olds, or god forbid younger... It’s not right, no matter the cause.
Which is what made my government’s reaction to this massacre all the more surprising. To say Kamwana and co. dropped the ball would be an understatement. I’m not going to launch into a tirade about their inability to keep us safe, everything has already been said, and by people far better informed than me. My concern has more to do with what appeared to be the executive’s callous lack of concern. No memorial service, no days of mourning, no obligatory trip to Garissa by dear leader to condole with the shell shocked town. To the best of my recollection, I don’t think Kamwana even gave us one of his ‘Fellow Kenyans’ speeches. How now? We’ve since found out the attackers were Kenyan, which means it’s no longer about Somalia, or foreigners, or refugees, or whomever the government and it’s mafans like to blame for all bad things. We know one of the attackers was well educated, arguably a child of privilege, seeing as how he was the son of a chief or such like, which in turn means the old ‘poverty makes terrorists’ argument us left leaning types like to make is no longer valid. That they killed mostly non Muslims speaks to the anti Christian propaganda Al Shabaab likes to throw about, but it also speaks to the inequalities of this country, being that they were ‘foreigners’ in a largely Muslim region. Nothing about Garissa was simple or straightforward. Perhaps that’s why serikali was so eager to wish it away.
148 dead Kenyans are hard to wish away.
This is the thing. Al Shabaab, contrary to claims in the press and slick PR videos from State House, is not finished. Diminished, in some parts, at best. We’re not safe yet, not here in the capital or out in the less Kenyan parts of Kenya. You’re not safe in France, for that matter, and you’re not safe in California. You’re sure as hell not safe in Syria, or Libya, or Mali, or Somalia, or Egypt, or CAR, or Nigeria. You’re not even safe in China these days, what with their knife wielding ‘terrorists’ (one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, especially in China). Slight detour. Mass knife attacks? Am I the only one who’s picturing old Kung Fu movies? No? Just me then. Moving right along.
We’re living in the age of terror. That sounds melodramatic, no? I can’t think of another word to describe what these idiots are doing to us. We try to get on with our lives, acting like everything is normal, then we go through numerous security checks to get into a mall, or to board an airplane. We hold our vigils and mourn the dead and we move on, thinking that we’re fine, and then a student jumps out a fourth floor window during a security drill. We thank our gods that we’re safe in our homes, but we still jump when fireworks go off unexpectedly, thinking for a moment that we are under attack again. We’re traumatised. We’re tired. We are, for lack of a better word, terrified.
I’m convinced we all have a mild case of PTSD.
And as well we should.
This is what happens when we refuse to deal with our violence. Our eagerness to accept and move on has us pretending everything is fine, when deep down we know it isn’t. We know this, we can feel it in our bones. That we’re only one shitty election, one large scale attack away from disintergration. I’m not saying we’re about to fall apart from the country, I’m saying we’re about to fall apart as individuals. I hate to admit it, but we need therapy, all of us. We need people in charge of the numerous security failures we endure to be held to account. We need answers to why, and how, these atrocities happened, everything from clashes in the Rift Valley, through to PEV and Mpeketoni. We need a collective, public reckoning of biblical proportions, destruction of Babylon type of reckoning. We need to sing kumbaya (and mean it) when said reckoning is done, so that we can truly move on. We need... We need a fucking Kagame is what we need. I may have gone too far there, but you get my point, we need a leadership that not only shares our hopes and dreams, but our darkness and fears as well. We need leaders that understand that we don’t all have 24 hour personal police guards at our disposal, and that we sometimes get scared as we’re out perambulating aimlessly trying to pay our taxes.
That’s my biggest issue with my president and his government of thieving imbeciles, and the bloody useless opposition. These idiots don’t know or don’t remember what it feels like to feel unprotected. I see the cops on patrol as I walk around the city, but given that they’re usually harassing innocent people, they inspire little confidence in me. I walk into a supermarket that looks eerily like the supermarket where a man was shot while hiding under an elephant, and I do not feel safe. I watch the news and hear these idiot politicians talk smack, and I have flashbacks of machete wielding thugs, thugs who kinda look like me (well, my cousins). I’m thinking, neither Kamwana nor Raila understands this, not if their bullshit proclamations are anything to go by.
Listen, I’ve made my peace with the possibility that some idiot may kill me while trying to steal my car, this while I drive home from the karaoke bar at 2 am on a loose Thursday night. It’s not right, but it is what it is. I’m not entirely paranoid, I don’t worry about someone stealing my wallet when I get into the bus to town, for the most part I choose not to obsess about these things, because crime is a part of life no matter where you are. But an idiot spraying his AK47 in the supermarket or a college hostel? That’s not regular crime, that’s ‘point at the government’ crime, they’re fighting against the government, not us. That’s why we call it terrorism. Worst part about it, there’s not much we can do but grin and bear it, such is our lot in life, us little people with no say in geopolitics and such like fancy nonsense.
I apologise. This was supposed to be a post remembering the victims of Garissa. For those who lost their lives, we grieve. You are not forgotten, despite all evidence to the contrary.