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Garissa: How Shabaab attack changed way Kenya varsities do things 0

Today marks exactly one year since the Al Shabaab attack on the Garissa University College that left some 148 people dead including 142 students. In spite of new security measures, the Saturday Nation established that little improvement has been achieved on the ground even as the fear of similar attacks is still high.

Closed gates, inquisitive guards and the occasional sniffer dog is the new face of the main universities and colleges in Kenya thanks to the terrorist attack at Garissa University College exactly one year ago.

Before then, movement in and out of Kenya’s institutions of higher learning was virtually unrestricted to students and visitors alike.

Al-Shabaab gunmen killed 142 students during the Garissa university attack.

“It became evident that universities and other institutions of learning were clear soft targets for terrorists,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka. “The government took an initiative to build their capacities to prepare them for emergencies as well as forestall attacks.”

New security measures, which involve screening visitors and vehicles as well as carrying out drills, were introduced after a meeting of senior university administrators and ministry officials.

“It was realised that it is not possible to post armed police officers in all institutions,” said Mr Njoka. “It was agreed that the best way forward is to build capacities of individual institutions on security matters so that their personnel know what to look out for to detect threats.

“And, in case of an incident, they should know what to do.”

However, the Saturday Nation established that little improvement has been achieved on the ground even as the fear of similar attacks is still high. For instance, although guards are armed with hand-held metal detectors, they hardly check the contents of luggages.

In institutions where there are fixed detectors, one passes through uninterrupted — this in spite of the automatic beeps signalling that “something” has been detected.
Vehicles are hardly checked on the underside; neither are motorists required to have the interior inspected.

Besides screening visitors, the ministry would like to see institutions conduct regular security drills. A drill has happened once at Strathmore University in Nairobi but the well-intended exercise went awfully wrong, resulting in the death of a member of staff.

The drill took place on November 30 last year.

“Gunmen dressed like terrorists” entered the institutions with weapons. Students and staff, with the Garissa attack still fresh in their memory, scampered for safety, some jumping off storey buildings. At least 30 students were treated for fractures.

The security manager was fired after the disaster.

Barely a fortnight after the Garissa incident, a student died at the University of Nairobi’s Kikuyu Campus after an electric transformer exploded and students mistook the sound for a terror attack. The students jumped from as high as the sixth floor of their hostel rooms following the explosion. Another 141 were injured and they were taken to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) and other city hospitals.

Barely two weeks ago, there was a stampede at Kenyatta University where at least 38 students were injured in what they thought was a terror attack.

The commotion started in the library following a brawl by two students and screams by those nearby were mistaken for distress calls in a terror attack.

Latest police statistics show there were 28 terrorism incidents across the country in 2015 in which 205 people died and 322 were injured.

The previous year, there were 51 terror incidents which resulted in 173 deaths and 179 injuries.

The police report noted: “Terrorism continues to be a threat to security in the country.

“The year 2015 was characterised by fewer terrorist attacks, which included the use of grenades, landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices and shooting incidents despite attacks of high magnitude like the Garissa University attack which left 149 persons dead.”

“The most notable incident in the year 2015 was the Garissa university terrorist attack. Al-Shabaab militants attacked and took students hostage. During the incident, militias were gunned down and three AK47 rifles recovered.

“The security personnel were able to rescue 615 students and 50 members of staff while 142 students, two private security guards two police officers and four suspects were killed.”

Report by Fred Mukinda 

Click here for reading the special dossier on Garissa attack.

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi