Shortly after the ISIS attacks on Paris, messages of hope and prayers for peace flooded all platforms of social media. The story of a massacre in Kenya, however, also appeared among the multitude of updates about the Paris attacks. “Man, what’s happening with the world right now?” queried one Facebook user, sharing a link to a BBC article detailing the Kenyan attacks. “147 dead in terrorist attack on Kenya college,” tweeted another, “Hate consumes and destroys.”
When this heavily shared article began trending on social media, attentive readers pointed out that the event had not in fact occurred in November of 2015. In actuality, the Garissa University attacks had transpired seven months prior, in April.
The attacks, orchestrated by the jihadist terrorist group Al-Shabaab, a branch of Al-Qaeda, commenced at 5:30 am on April 2nd. During their 15-hour siege, four militants armed with explosive vests and AK-47s held more than 700 students hostage. Those who identified as Muslims were freed, while Christians were persecuted and murdered for their faith.
“They were Christian students having a fellowship,” explained Robert Muni ’16, a DA post graduate from Kenya. “So they shot and killed all of them. [They] had students jumping through the windows to the outside of the resident’s halls [in order to escape].” Approximately 500 students were able to escape, of which 79 were injured.
By the time the Kenyan Defense Forces had successfully repelled the militants, 147 people lay dead in the halls of Garissa University.
The members of Al-Shabaab, who are stationed in Somalia, have harbored ill feelings towards the Kenyan government since 2011, when Kenyan troops entered Somalia in an attempt to undermine Al-Shabaab power and influence. The intrusions have been largely disastrous, catalyzing more attacks and kidnappings by the jihadistMterrorist group.
“They threatened to attack more schools,” recounted Muni. “They said they were going to attack a national secondary high school. And my [former] school, the Starehe Boys’ School, is a national secondary high school. I was terrified, so terrified. I had very scary thoughts that something could happen to our school because it’s very open [to the public].”
When asked about the lack of comprehensive coverage and knowledge in the western world about the Garissa University attacks, Muni maintained that “it’s about which country has more to lose. That’s the sense. Kenya is just an African country — so just put it on the news for one day, and that’s it.”
“It makes me upset,” expressed Muni, “Because, you know, every life matters, regardless of whatever economic background someone is from, or what country he or she is from. Countering globalism is a global mandate. Currently we have attacks in West Africa; I haven’t seen much coverage about that. It’s the same problem. It’s still terrorism. There’s no different definition of terrorism across continents.”
Jessica Contrera of The Washington Post conjectured that “people are more likely to care about the tragedies they feel close to, and more likely to show their concern if everyone else is doing the same. Comparing levels of outrage in response to tragic news is nothing new.”
Therein lies the problem of social media and its power over traditional media, Contrera asserts. Stories about tragedies will only circulate if they hit close to home, whether that’s geographic, socioeconomic, political, or religious. The Garissa University attacks only earned the empathy of readers as an offshoot of the Paris attacks.
“We need to take time before [personally] redefining the events that have taken place through some distorted [lens] like politics or business,” Muni said. “We need to really take time to consider what has happened to the families and friends of these people.”