Kenya‘s Teachers Knew They Were Being Targeted By Terrorists.
By Anthony Kipngetich Langat
On Thursday morning at around half past six, Peter Kevin was woken by the sound of rapid gunfire. He’s a teacher at Garissa Boys Town Secondary School, just seven months in. The noises he heard were al-Shabaab terrorists storming Garissa University College, half a mile away, killing 148 people and injuring 75 more.
Later, Peter went to hospital to see whether any of his friends were among the victims. Their phones were going unanswered, and he feared the worst. One friend, a student at the university who was volunteering as a teacher at his school, was dead.
On Friday morning, the 27-year-old quit the well-paying job that had always been his dream, and vowed never to set foot in Garissa again.
“By the time I left hospital all that was in my mind was to travel back home because Garissa is not good,” he said. “Whatever I saw shocked me. It is so bad.”
In February, more than 1,000 public school teachers who had been posted to Garissa and neighboring counties went on strike. The area borders Somalia, and al-Shabaab had specifically targeted schools and colleges a number of times, including an attack in November in which 22 teachers were killed. Two months ago school staff demanded that their employer, the Teachers Service Commission, take their safety seriously. The TSC responded by threatening to advertise their jobs, while the government said it would increase security measures. Most of the teachers returned to work.
The attack has led Peter and other teachers to question whether the government failed to keep its promise or was just outsmarted by the terrorists.
Aden Sharrif teaches at nearby Tetu Primary School. He agrees that the government should have acted on the security alerts. Teachers have genuine concerns for wanting out of the region, he says, but leaving would cause bigger problems.
“Most teachers are looking for transfers, and it has affected us because they are part and parcel of us,” he said. “They are our colleagues and we need them: If they leave, education will be paralyzed. And it isn’t only the teachers — even civil servants want to leave.”
Milimu Matunda, a deputy headteacher at Al-Ibrahim Primary School in Garissa, fears for his life. These days he gets home by six in the evening — as per the curfew imposed in the town — shuts the door and waits.
“I don’t even sleep; I just sit in the house wondering what will happen next,” he said. “Initially, we used to sleep with our doors open because of the hot environment here, but now I shut my door very early and wait.”
Fellow teachers have told Milimu that if the insecurity persists they will not be going back to Garissa for the next school term, which starts in May. His personal position is dependent on the government’s reaction. “I feel I can still give my services to the people of Garissa if only the security will be improved,” he told me. “At the moment I can say I am still in Garissa… but it will depend on the security if it will be improved or not.”
Peter’s mind is made up, though. He is not going back. And he says he is not alone. From his school, BoysTown Secondary alone, three other teachers were in the bus he boarded Friday morning towards Nairobi.
On Saturday, more than 600 students rode a convoy of government-sponsored buses laid on for those who want to flee the area. Milimu thinks the next group will include many more civil servants and teachers.
“I can say that when these security alerts were issued, nobody took them seriously, at least not in Garissa,” he said. They are now.