Clouds of fear brood over Garissa. The reality of terrorism struck home for those of us who live there on a dark Thursday night on 24th November. My colleague at the clinic thought it was a tyre burst. Suddenly John rushed in with blood allover his face. He did not know that he was bleeding. We quickly rushed him to the provincial general hospital. Then the details began to jell. John was one of those at Chege’s café when a grenade was hauled at them. The simultaneous explosions happened at 7 pm, one at Chege’s about 100 meters from NEMC clinic and the other was at a shopping centre on nearby Ngamia Road killing six people.
This was the second time we have experienced grenade attack in Garissa in one month. Earlier on the fateful night of November 5th, an unknown suspected terrorist threw a grenade into the compound of the East Africa Pentecostal Church, killing an eight year-old girl and according to reports leaving three others seriously injured.
Fear spreading through the community has several faces. We all knew that attempts by the government of Kenya to quell the activities of Islamic extremists in the Somali border area might trigger reprisals. Would this ghastly deed be the start of something often predicted, an all-out attempt to drive the Christian minority out of the area?
Immediately the Kenyan government moved to diffuse the thought that Muslims were launching an all out attack on Christians. Government spokesman rightly blamed the attack on Al-shabaab sympathizers. Muslim leaders in Garissa acted swiftly, not only condemning the attacks but joining Christians at the burial of the victim of the blast.
The attack signaled a change of direction by the perpetrators. Until 5 November police and government officials were key targets. A day after Kenyan troops entered Somalia a senior CID officer was shot at. The action led to arrests of suspected Al shabaab. In what is thought to be retaliatory attack, his car was shot at in the nearby town of Wajir, seriously injuring a passenger in the vehicle.
This was not the only incident. Another attack was reported where ”a group of about 30 suspected Al Shabaab militants ambushed a security base manned by the Rural Border Patrol Unit of the Administration Police near Elwak in Mandera at night but were repulsed by the security officers: The armed militiamen reportedly sneaked into the country but were confronted by the alert soldiers who were later backed by the military to pursue the militants into the Somalia.”
The classic tactics of terrorism are being applied here. The perpetrators seek to create fear by hitting very hard at the civilian population. This they hope will force the government to withdraw forces that are now inside Somalia trying to dismantle Al-shabaab positions.
These attacks are not by any means supported by all Somalis. At the Dadaab Refugee Camp a few weeks ago, thousands of Somali refugees held a demonstration to condemn what they called the “barbarism” of the Al Shabaab. They carried carrying banners, waved twigs and chanted anti Al Shabaab slogans. These refugees from the three camps, Hagadera, Ifo and Dagahaley, said they supported Kenya’s military offensive against the Al Shabaab.
Hagadera Refugee Camp chairman Kussow Abdi Nuni said the demonstration was organised by a refugee camp community consortium. “We support the Kenya Government in their operation to wipe out Al Shabaab from Somalia. Kenya has hosted us for more than two decades and we want to go back and build our country now,” Nuni said. He added that recent grenade attacks in different parts of Kenya are a clear testimony that the militants can strike anywhere.
The message is clear. We are no longer safe anywhere, especially those of us working to feed people facing starvation. The easiest option would be like many workers from Western NGOs to flee the situation.
For me the question is what will allow us living in this region and country to know peace? Will the presence of police or military forces protect us against the terrorists? Will their removal bring us that peace?
Long ago Isaiah the prophet spoke about the quality of peace that God was ready to give his people. He says, “You give us peace, Lord, because everything we have done was by your power.” (Isa 26.12, CEV)
Isaiah lived in troubled times. His country, Judah, faced the prospect of being invaded and gobbled up by the Babylonian empire. He saw no prospect for trouble-free days. Babylon was notorious for cruel treatment of subject people. Soon Hebrew slaves would be force marched into exile tied together by strings secured through their noses by fish hooks. Throughout exile in Babylon treatment of the people of God would be harsh. It would last over 400 years. It would be the destiny of the people to live under a series of oppressors in the centuries to come.
The safety and peace that Isaiah envisions would be experienced despite living in a context most foul. The cruelty of Nebuchadnezzar hardly compared to the cruelty of Rome whose iron-clad soldiers bullied and bribed and would not hesitate to crucify rebels. Their pax romana was a peace that came at great cost to subject peoples. At this time God promise was full filled, unveiled with the coming of the prince of peace.
God’s peace can be our peace even in time of cruelty and terror, this is the peace the world cannot give Nor can the world take it away.
“He makes wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaks the bow, and cuts the spear in sunder; He burns the chariots in the fire.” Psa 46:9
“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psa 46:10
The Rev Canon Francis Omondi is International Director of TSM a Kenyan led mission providing education, medical care and emergency relief in the arid north-east of Kenya near the Somali border