Two years ago, on the eve of Good Friday, 2015, Al Shabaab militants besieged Garissa University campus in Kenya’s volatile northeast. 147 students died that day. Muslims were spared, but Christians targetted: the attackers killed all students present at an early morning Christian prayer meeting, and hunted down several more hiding in rooms.
Survivors have been moved to Moi University in Eldoret, in mid-Kenya, whose administration has granted permission for the Christian Union to hold a memorial on this year’s anniversary, Sunday,2 April. Garissa University will also hold a memorial event organised by the County Government on Sunday.
“I would rather not be reminded of that day… I wish I could forget,” confessed one survivor who asked to remain anonymous. “I wish there were not even a public event.”
But another said, “I am fine with the idea of a public event to celebrate the lives of all the friends we lost that day.”
Fred Gitonga, Chairman of the student Christian Union at the time of the attack, said: “My fellow students are doing as fine as can be expected after such a traumatic experience. We’re all trying to put our emotions and minds back together and finish our studies. However, I know for sure that our wounds are not fully healed. Many continue to suffer and struggle quietly, trying to forget the past. When we talk, it’s clear that memories occasionally intrude, bringing much fear. The ex-Garissa students are eager to finish their studies and move on from university – they feel that doing this will give them space to finally leave the past behind.”
He thanked supporters: “Thank you for praying for and with us. Please continue to pray for other Kenyan universities to be at peace, to be secure and never to ever experience anything like we did.”
Life in Garissa
In Garissa the already tense atmosphere has been exacerbated by news that the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) killed 31 Al Shabaab fighters in a recent attack on two of their bases in Jubbaland in Somalia.
“Fear is gripping non-Muslims in Garissa as we near the second anniversary of the massacre because rumours are spreading that Al Shabaab are preparing to avenge their fallen brothers killed in the KDF attack. The Church in this area remains the “softest” target and Christians are calling for prayers. At the same time, as the anniversary draws near, our relatives down-country keep checking on us, and from their voices, we can hear much fear and worry for our safety. Please pray for them too,” asked a local pastor who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.
“Christians in Garissa continue to face discrimination. This is not only in employment. Currently there is widespread drought in North Kenya, forcing the government to send in food aid. However, non-Muslims are told the food is strictly for locals – Muslims – and that non-locals must access their share from their home counties.”
Along with these pressures the current political atmosphere is causing extra tension as various rivals campaign for the upcoming elections. In the past Kenyan elections have resulted in widespread violence.
“Even as we pray for the upcoming memorial, please also pray for peaceful elections. We hear threats against ‘outsiders’ at local rallies,” the pastor concluded.
At the university people are trying as best they can to carry on. “After the new students reported last year, they were initially scared, unsettled, but slowly relaxed. However with the memorial day coming, many are looking anxious and worried,” said a Garissa University staff member.
“The number of non-Muslim students willing to study in Garissa is very small. This is because fear remains high and Garissa is not considered safe. Many non-Muslims would rather not go there at all. My prayer is that the spilt blood of the students will not go in vain and that God will use the pain they went through to draw many to Himself. Those Christian Union kids were killed as they were praying. May God use that to somehow convict the hearts of non-believers! May they come to know that the God we serve is the One True God! I sincerely pray that those children’s blood was not shed for nothing! May the enemies of Christ be brought to their knees like happened with Nebuchadnezzar.”
“Pray for us too as we continue to suffer much persecution that is so hard to prove because it is in the voices, in the looks, in snide remarks…. At the same time, our Christian students need a lot of prayer. They are few in number and face pressure. They are told off for ‘making noise’ when they are praying, that they are ‘spending too much time’ in prayers and church activities! …Nominal Christians are enticed into Islam with money. I guess what our hearts are crying out for is to know without doubt that God is with us and that He is the one who called us to be here at this particular time in history.”