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Feature: Kenya's Garissa makes headlines for wrong reasons

Xinhua, April 13, 2015 Adjust font size:

Once again Kenya's border county of Garissa is making headlines for all the wrong reasons following the recent terror attack at a local college which was orchestrated by Al-Shabaab militants.

The restive town that is the gateway to northeastern Kenya has bore the brunt of the militant group with hundreds innocent lives including security officers being lost.

It all started in late 2011 when the government decided to send its troops to Somalia to pursue the Al-Qaida linked terror group after a series of attack and kidnappings targeting tourists on the coastal towns.

Following the move which saw Kenyan troops secure huge swathes of land of war-torn Somalia, previously under Al-Shabaab, the terror group vowed to carry out retaliatory attacks inside Kenya.

For many Kenyans, the threats looked like normal but the reality is slowly downing in the minds of many that the threats were in deed real and costly to the country.

The latest deadliest attack at the Garissa University College since the terrorists started carrying out attacks in the country has led to many Kenyans asking whether it was time the country pullout its troops from Somalia since it was the genesis of all the problems bedeviling the country.

The government has stood its ground that it will not pull out its troops and has engaged leaders from northeastern region in a series of campaign to rid the region that has bore the brunt of the attacks of Al-Shabaab terror militants, sympathizers and financiers.

Mandera Governor Ali Roba who has in the past survived four terror attacks acknowledged that Al-Shabaab networks are deep rooted in the society and leaders from the region have no option but to confront the menace head on.

The attacks have led to government employees including Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officers, school teachers, nurses and doctors leading the way in relocating from Garissa.

Refusal by teachers to report for their duty stations early this year have further compounded the woes facing the region's public service workforce.

According to a senior education official, hundreds of teachers have personally called him to request transfers out of the county.

"The situation is dire and when the schools re-open in May, we could see more teachers leave as result of these attacks," the official who requested anonymity told Xinhua on Sunday.

The insecurity in the region has posed a serious challenge to the town, which a few years ago were named as the second fastest growing town in the East and Central Africa.

The attacks date back to 2011 when Locus Nightclub was the first business premises to be targeted.

It was then followed by further attacks on the popular "Kwa Chege" restaurant where six patrons died after a grenade was lobbed into the eatery.

In late 2012, in the Ngamia road area on the outskirts of Garissa town, a grenade was hurled into a kiosk, killing five people instantly.

This was again followed by another attack on another hotel within the town known as Dunes Restaurant where five people including the Garissa Medium Prison chief warden were killed after hooded assailants' entered the hotel opening fire on the unsuspecting patrons.

In mid-April 2012, another bloody attack happened again at the "Kwa Chege" restaurant where 10 were massacred by Al-Shabaab militants. The owner of the restaurant has since closed shop and relocated to unknown business location.

In July 1, 2012, 17 faithful at the African Inland Church were killed after gunmen lobbed grenades inside the church during Sunday service before proceeding to execute the survivors.

Most of last year, Garissa town witnessed a relative peace and many thought the town was regaining its lost glory of being the safest town in East and central Africa according to Interpol.

"Following the lull we were made to believe that that town was once again secure for us to stay. I even came back to re-open my shop that I had closed. Unfortunately what took place at the Garissa University has completely shattered my dreams and left me more confused," said Ann Njoki, a resident.

Njoki believes that the attacks that have been targeting non locals are aimed at frustrating them to leave the town.

"This is not good for the country as there are so many non locals spread across the other parts of the country who are carrying out their businesses without (being) harassed by any one, " she added.

"The closure of the giant Naivas retail chain that opened in Garissa mid 2014 as the first supermarket is a clear indication that business in Garissa was headed for its downfall," Njoki adds.

She was however optimistic that the local leaders who have come out to condemn the terror group activities will confront Al- Shabaab and also rally the locals in ridding the region of the militants.

According Paul Chege, a chairman of the Garissa open air market, he believes that it is only leaders from northern Kenya and the local residents who can end terrorism by denouncing their activities.

"Let's hope the re-energized leaders who have for once come out to tackle the terror group head on will succeed in their mission," says Chege. Endi