We are all human

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.

kenya-tweetAs 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.


12 thoughts on “We are all human

  1. I agree. It’s hardly had a mention over here. Everyone is still talking about the plane crash in the Alps. Which of course was awful but so was the Kenyan massacre. With the plane crash though I think people felt that could have been me. A university campus in Kenya is too…. Foreign?

    • Thanks Clara. I guess for people who fly a lot that’s true, a plane crash is kind of a nightmare come true, whereas deaths in a country you may not know a lot about seem too remote to really care. I suppose the good thing about social media is at least now we become more aware of what is going on around the world. What the solutions are, I don’t know.

  2. @ Clara. I disagree. You should be listening to BBC. Midnight to 4.30 am on 94.50. A ton of quality African coverage.

    Then again, you may have been relying on domestic Australian coverage….sigh.

    • The ABC has been quite good & I agree the BBC always has good African coverage, as does the Guardian. It’s definitely about choosing good quality news sources. But local social media has certainly been pretty quiet.

  3. I hope my comment doesn’t disappear this time.

    Good continuation there, Maamej.

    Opportunist politicians. Kenya and Nigeria have them by the truck load.
    (And Mombasa is the hub for all western NGOs and the UN agencies working in Africa.)

    Going back to my initial point.

    Recently, I was interested in modern slavery in North Africa and found tons of information in relation to Niger and Mauretania on the net. Description, stats, context and analysis. Anti-slavery organisations founded by ex -slaves from The Sahel, long-established western anti-slavery groups, and yes, an excellent essay in The New Yorker.

    Wish I hadn’t lost my original comment.
    Oh yes. Anyone can be well informed if they have the keyboard energy, time to spent and curiosity.

    Indigenous forms of African slavery operate right out in the open in Niger, Mauretania etc. today, and this is partially due of our Western understanding (and accompanying images) of the Transatlantic slave trade to the Americas.

    I could go on about specific African forms of social organisation, ideas about ‘the family’, exploitative labour relationships which have their own long history, the importance of customary laws etc , but will leave it here.

    If you hit up the cloud category – Africa and Babylon – on my site, there are a couple of informative maps on The Middle Passage to the Americas.

    • Sorry you lost the comment, that happened to me on another blog recently, so annoying. Sounds like you have been doing a lot of reading. I know the existence of slavery in Africa has been used to justify the transatlantic slave trade at times – pretty sick argument.

      I was also reading a couple of years ago about child slavery on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations – children being brought in from Mali & Burkina Faso I think – related to corruption right up to top political circles, very depressing.

      Anyway I noticed you had some interesting reading suggestions along with the maps – some more to put on my endless reading list, thanks.

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