It’s only a few days since 147 young people were killed, and 79 injured, by members of the religious extremist organisation Al Shabab at a university in Garissa, Kenya.
I’m angered and grieved by this. 147 young people who through their endeavours would have made the Kenya, and the world, a better place. 147 people who’d heeded the call embedded in the title of this classic song by Kenyan musician Daudi Kabaka to harambee: pull together, work together for common goals for the benefit of all.
I guess that’s why they were targeted. Education lifts people out of poverty and ignorance. Education enables people to think for themselves and ask uncomfortable questions about cultural and political oppression. Education allows women, especially, to make powerful choices for themselves and their families. For all these reasons and more, education is deeply challenging to authoritarian organisations such as Al Shabab. It’s not just about religion, it’s about social control.
Saado Ali (Cali) Warsame knew this. She was a Somalian singer and politician whose songs were about social justice, human rights and political corruption.
Some of her videos show her singing in front of a TV screen, gesturing towards images of starving children, men with AK 47s and roundtables of earnest, mostly male politicians. The message is clear: politicians, religious fundamentalists …. get your priorities right, stop messing with human lives.
Saado Ali Warsame was killed by Al Shabab in July 2014.
The response to the massacre in Kenya in the western media has so far been underwhelming.
As noted in the Twittersphere, there’s little attention for mass murder in Africa. The #WeAreAllKenyans hashtag that sprang up hasn’t taken off in the way #jesuischarlie did earlier this year. I think this points to the difficulty the rest of the world has in seeing the humanity of Africans. Oh dear, another pile of dead black bodies, tut tut, why do they keep doing this to themselves? I wonder what the football score is?
I know, I know, ‘compassion fatigue’, after the recent unrelenting stream of human and natural disasters, is a real thing. But no Australians were harmed in this regrettable incident. Pass the chocolate, make sure it’s Lindt. Fair trade, what’s that?
And a massacre in Kenya isn’t really something you can throw money at, is it? There’s no donation box. There’s nowhere to even lay flowers, way over here in Sydney (the Kenyan Consulates are in Canberra and Perth). Consider this post, with music from Kenya and Somalia, as my floral wreath.
Yes, I’m angry. Young people shouldn’t be lying dead, the victims of senseless brutality and vicious ideology. They should be working, studying, clowning around with friends, figuring out what they want to be doing with their lives. They should be dancing.
I shared this video not because I think it’s great music or that they are totally awesome dancers, but because they are young people, doing the kind of thing young people should be doing — being playful and creative and productive — against a backdrop of development and construction. They happen to be Kenyan.
It turns out that one of the killers was the son of a Kenyan government official. A ‘brilliant’ law student who ‘got these crazy ideas’ and joined Al Shabab after graduating. But I think this high flyer is a bit of a distraction. Of course Al Shabab followers must come from all walks of life, but it’s worth noting a BBC report that Al Shabab has recruited followers from the slums of Mombasa. What a surprise, not. Al Shabab recruiters target vulnerable, disenfranchised people.
The report says that young, poor Muslim men with no job prospects were offered money to join. Without viable alternatives, why wouldn’t they? But once you’ve joined up to something like that, it can be very hard to get out. Maybe it can also be hard not to believe the quasi-religious hype that your new masters feed you.
So Al Shabab’s leadership is exploiting the very circumstances that education seeks to avert, to gain recruits who will, on its behalf, seek to destroy education. They’re not dumb. Just very, very nasty.
We are all human. With that comes not only delight, beauty, love and connection but also greed, selfishness, arrogance and sadism. It’s hard to feel optimistic about the world when events like the Garissa massacre show us ourselves at our worst. It’s easier to turn away and smell the roses. Well, we do have to smell the roses or we would go mad with despair; but we also have to notice that there’s shit on our boots. I’m not sure, though, what it will take to clean it off.
I cried a little, over the weekend, for those children in Garissa. They’re children to me because I’m a mother and they were in my son’s age group. I read the news reports, I browsed the Twitter feeds, I didn’t look away. I cried, because it’s the human thing to do, and the best of our humanity is what we all need to claim, when something like this happens. #WeAreAllHuman
Since writing this I’ve found web page with a listing of good links to news and backgrounders here.