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Kenyans Search for Loved Ones and Answers on Government’s Poor Security After University Attack

Authorities have been criticized for failing to sufficiently step up security at Garissa University, where at least 147 students were killed by al Shabaab militants, despite evidence they knew of the threat.
Image via AP

Anindo has been looking for Daisy ever since the two tried to flee Garissa University early on Thursday morning. They were jarred awake by the sound of gunshots.

"I still haven't heard any news," he said. "I went to the hospital in Garissa. The names of those who were killed were registered in a book, but her name wasn't there."

After spending Wednesday evening together, Daisy spent the night in Anindo's dormroom. They escaped when the attack began. He passed beyond the compound walls, where he then watched on, along with other students and gathering citizens, in the direction of the gunfire. But Daisy had disappeared.


"Even the calls I make to her won't go through," he told VICE News.

He is one of the many confused and devastated Kenyans currently searching for names and answers in the wake of East African terrorist group al Shabaab's attack on Garissa University, which left at least 147 dead. Incoming reports suggest the actual number is expected to be higher.

The Kenyan Red Cross has set up two information desks to assist the community — one in Garissa, and one in Nairobi, Kenya's capital city where the deceased and wounded are currently being transferred via plane.

Both sites are being flooded with requests for information about students like Daisy, who seemingly vanished during Thursday's chaos. They are unreachable through phone calls, and unregistered by medics. As a result, families in Garissa are now making the five hour trip to Nairobi to see what they can uncover.

Related: Death Toll Rises to 147 After Al Shabaab Gunmen Attack Kenyan University

"Our hotlines have been going off the hook," said Arnolda Shiundu, spokeswoman for the Kenyan Red Cross. "With the cases we can conclude, we do. But we are trying to get more information."

"Tension is very high here as the family members continue to look for answers," she told VICE News.

Along with confusion, there is anger. Criticisms against the government are rising, as it comes to light that al Shabaab affiliates staged threats against schools and attacks against public targets in Nairobi and East Kenya within the past few weeks, giving intelligence agencies ample reason to increase security personnel throughout universities in the country.


On March 18, militants infiltrated the small town of Wajir some 60 miles west of the Somali-Kenyan border and corralled civilians into a shop before burning it down, killing four people. The previous Friday, gunmen staged an ambush on a convoy for Mandera's governor Ali Roba, killing two police officers and one other person.

Last week, gunmen wearing balaclavas and driving an unmarked Toyota truck stormed a hotel in Garissa, forcing hostages to lay on the ground before killing two and abducting two others.

A day before assaulting the university, gunmen believed to be al Shabaab members attacked Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa county, killing one teacher and injuring three.

In spite of flyers about a potential terrorist attack posted across Garissa University, only two armed guards had been set up in front of the compound gates early Thursday.

"There was sufficient evidence that imminent attacks would take place at a university in Kenya, but the county of Garissa could not take its time to give enough security personnel," Ibrahim Mohamed Atush, executive secretary of the Kenya National Union of Teacher's Garissa branch, told RFI.

"The most important thing that the Kenyan government can do in this moment is come out and explain themselves," Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, an East Africa researcher for Amnesty International, told VICE News, referring to the poor state of security in Garissa following these threats.


"It is not that al Shabaab is a sophisticated group," he continued. "It is that the Kenyan military and regional forces are incompetent at getting rid of these guys."

President Uhuru Kenyatta has come under fire for telling an audience at an investor conference that Kenya is "as safe as any country" the day before the assault on Garissa University, in a response to a new series of warnings issued by British and Australian embassies on travel throughout Kenya.

On the day of the attacks, his tone was much more apologetic. In a Facebook statement on the assault, he urged that 10,000 police enrollees whose status is pending be accepted into the police academy immediately.

"We have suffered unnecessarily due to shortage of security personnel," Kenyatta said in his statement. "Kenya badly needs additional officers, and I will not keep the nation waiting."

For those who wait to hear about their friends and loved ones, that suffering feels even more unnecessary. A Facebook page for students at Garissa University is swelling with posts on missing students, and outpourings of grief for who passed away.

Anindo's name can be found among the members, asking for information on any of the seven friends who disappeared after Thursday morning's violence — including the one he spent the night with just a few hours before.

"Please where is Daisy Aching, Martha, Lydia," he writes, asking anyone to reply.

Follow Johnny Magdaleno on Twitter: @johnny_mgdlno