Kenya University Attack Survivors Abandon School: ‘I Will Never Go Back to Garissa’

Khalil Senosi/AP
Khalil Senosi/AP

Nearly a week has passed since the deadly jihadist attack on Kenya’s Garissa University that killed at least 148, and students who watched their colleagues being slaughtered now say they will never step foot in the city again, with some even renouncing higher education entirely and vowing to live as farmers.

Kenya’s The Nation reports that over 600 students were on campus and survived the attack. The government has shut the school down until further notice, and is making arrangements to send the students and faculty to neighboring Moi University. The students were six weeks away from finishing their semesters, and all accounted for were in their first, second, and third years of study.

Four gunmen affiliated with the jihadist Somali terror group Al-Shabaab stormed the Garissa University campus on April 3. Witnesses say they heard the gunmen demand students recite Koranic verses and killed those they identified as Christian.

While finding a place for the survivors to complete their education for the semester is a problem the government has eagerly begun to tackle, convincing the students themselves to finish their degrees may prove a much more difficult task. Two freshmen students, speaking to The Nation, tell the newspaper that they refuse to go to an academic institution again.

Peninah Amweno and Nelphas Maruti both escaped by running away. Amweno says she hid in a thicket after running away from bullets, feeling them flying hear her. Maruti hid in a trench; he tells the newsapaper he “watched as the four terrorists hacked his colleagues to death with machetes for failing to recite Islamic readings.”

“Ms Amweno and Mr Maruti vowed never to set foot in Garissa again, saying they would stay at home and become farmers,” The Nation reports.

They are not alone in being survivors who refuse to return to Garissa. Alfred Mang’oli Walubengo, a second-year student, expressed to Kenya’s The Standard similar reservations. “I am not going back to Garissa; I’d rather stay at home without any degree than go back to that place of death,” he says, describing his “head-on” collision with the gunmen. Walubengo was hit in the thigh with a bullet as he ran for cover in a toilet. Of Garissa, he says, “I challenged death in the hands of terrorists thus I cannot again take myself there.”

Walubengo’s father, former Member of Parliament Joash Wamang’oli, has called for Kenya to request Israel’s help in containing Islamist terrorism.

While the rising tide of severe mental trauma begins to rear its head among the hundreds of survivors, the Kenyan government is currently most occupied with aiding the families of the dead. Each family will receive 100,000 Kenyan shillings (about $1079) to help with funeral costs, and the government estimates that more than 100 victims have been positively identified.

Administrators believe that the 148 death toll is conservative, however. Officials of the nation’s Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) claim that at least 152 died, and 166 students remain missing. “We fear that they might have been kidnapped by Al-Shabaab, and the government should come clean about their whereabouts,” said UASU Secretary General Muga K’Olale.

The Kenyan government has launched several airstrikes against Al-Shabaab targets in Somalia this week, though Kenyan military spokesmen claimed the airstrikes were planned before the attack and not performed as revenge for the Garissa massacre.