On April 2, 2015, Kenya suffered one of its deadliest terrorist attacks in recent history. Al Shabaab militants stormed Garissa University and killed 148 people, most of them students.
The attack was a brutal reminder of the ongoing threat of violent extremism, but it also showcased the resilience and bravery of the Kenyan people.
The militants specifically targeted non-Muslim students, causing widespread fear and panic in the country. Despite the tragedy and loss of life, the attack highlighted the resilience of Kenyans who refused to be broken by the cowardly and senseless actions of the terrorists. Instead, Kenyans demonstrated their strength and determination to overcome adversity.
This resilience was demonstrated in numerous ways, especially by the surviving Garissa University College students. They refused to let the terrorists win by giving up on their education and their future. Instead, they chose to stand strong and demonstrate the power of resilience in the face of adversity.
In the aftermath of the attack, Kenyans came together to support each other and honour the memory of the victims. They organised prayer vigils, candlelight ceremonies and other events to show solidarity and support for those affected by the attack. This unwavering determination serves as a powerful testament to the human spirit and the resilience of Kenyans. Eight years later, as we commemorate the anniversary of the attack, it is important to reflect on the lessons learned and the way forward.
One of the most crucial takeaways from the Garissa University attack was the importance of community engagement in preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE).
It became clear that to effectively tackle the root causes of extremism, communities needed to be involved in the efforts to address them. Community involvement is crucial to successful PCVE efforts. By working together, communities can identify potential threats and take steps to address them before they become a larger problem.
It is important for individuals and groups to build relationships of trust and cooperation with law enforcement agencies as well as community-based organisations that work on peace and security matters. Communities must be vigilant and be able to recognise any signs of radicalisation and violent extremism by understanding the root causes of violent extremism in order to address them.
One of the major drivers of radicalisation and violent extremism is poverty which can lead to marginalisation and social exclusion. It is important for communities to provide opportunities for education, training and employment to address these issues.
Education also played a critical role in the aftermath of the attack. It became evident that equipping young people with the knowledge and skills to understand and reject extremist ideologies was key in curbing violent extremism. Institutions of learning, especially those in high-risk areas, needed to prioritise education on peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and interfaith dialogue.
Another lesson learned was the need for a holistic approach in addressing violent extremism. This meant going beyond military and law enforcement interventions and addressing social, economic, and political grievances that extremist groups exploited to gain support. A comprehensive strategy was required, one that involved various government agencies, civil society, and the private sector.
Partnerships were also crucial in the response to the Garissa University attack. The attack highlighted the need for cooperation between security forces, intelligence agencies, and other stakeholders, both nationally and regionally. It also underscored the importance of engaging with communities and civil society organisations as partners in the fight against violent extremism. The role of technology in preventing and countering violent extremism cannot be underestimated.
It has become increasingly clear that technology can be used both to spread extremist ideologies and to counter them. Social media and other online platforms have been used by extremist groups to recruit and radicalise individuals, making it essential to develop effective online strategies to prevent and counter violent extremism.
Moving forward, as a community and as a country, Kenya must continue to prioritise PCVE efforts. Sustained commitment from all stakeholders, including government agencies, civil society organisations, religious leaders and individuals in communities across the country is necessary to build resilient communities capable of withstanding the threat of violent extremism by building social cohesion, promoting dialogue and understanding between different communities across.
Finally, the need for evaluation and adaptation cannot be overstated. The response to violent extremism must be flexible and adaptable, with regular assessments to identify what is working and what needs improvement.
This requires continuous learning, monitoring, and evaluation to refine strategies and approaches. As we reflect on the Garissa University attack eight years on, we must also honour the valour and commitment of our brave frontliners who risked their lives to protect others. We must never forget the victims of the attack and their families and must continue to work together as a community to prevent and counter violent extremism.