Tuesday, 28 April 2015

‘SORRY’ JUST ISN’T ENOUGH: One Kenyan Parent's Farewell Letter to Garissa University College Students

29 April 2015

Our Dear Children,

This coming Saturday, the 2nd of May 2015 will mark one month since the sound of gunfire broke through the silence of dawn on your campus in Garissa. The approaching sound of death found some of you in morning prayer, others having woken up early to read for exams, but most of you just sound asleep. And before you knew what was happening, you came to the realization that your final hour had come. Your young lives were cruelly cut short to join a growing list of other Kenyans who have met a similar fate.

The first duty parents owe to their children is to protect them. In Garissa, we the parents of Kenya collectively and monumentally failed you, our dear children. Our hearts break when we recall how you waited in vain for us to come to your rescue, how you made anguished calls appealing for help, how you wrote terrified text messages wondering when we would come to shield and to protect you. But we did not come. Now we want to say with every fibre of our tormented souls how deeply sorry we are, but ‘Sorry’ Just Isn’t Enough!

The cold blooded murder of 147 students in their prime is a shocking event by any definition. It should be sufficient to make any country stop in its tracks and take a long hard look at itself in order to figure out what has gone so wrong as to result in such a senseless slaughter of its hope for the future. But in Kenya we paused just long enough to mourn you for three days, donate some money to your poor parents and give them a coffin each to take your remains on their final journey home. This was our way of saying ‘sorry’. But ‘Sorry’ Just Isn’t Enough!

The President ordered the recruitment of more police officers. He called on us to stop radicalizing our youth. He even wrote each of your parents a personal letter of condolences. This was the President’s way of saying ‘sorry’. But ‘Sorry’ Just Isn’t Enough!

Our government made the usual promises to improve security. It suspended a few middle-level security officers in Garissa. It ordered the shutting down of a refugee camp. It started building a wall to keep friends in and enemies out. This was the Government’s way of saying ‘sorry’. But ‘Sorry’ Just Isn’t Enough!

The opposition also weighed in. It criticised the Government for its failure to secure the country. It launched its own initiative to Okoa Kenya. This was the opposition’s way of saying ‘sorry’. But ‘Sorry’ Just Isn’t Enough!

Civil society issued passionate statements. It condemned terror and asked the government to do more to make Kenya safe. It held vigils and organized concerts. It erected crosses and lit candles in your memory. It reminded the world that #147IsNotJustANumber. This was Civil Society’s way of saying ‘sorry’. But ‘Sorry’ Just Isn’t Enough!

Kenya is a country of forgetting and moving on. And so, less than a month since our monumental failure to protect you, we have moved on without demanding answers to the difficult questions that arose out of this tragedy. Why did it take those sent to rescue you eleven hours to reach the killing field that had become your campus on that Holy Thursday? Why was a battalion of the Kenya Defence Forces that is located just minutes away from your campus content to surround it for 11 hours and not intervene as you were being systematically slaughtered within? Why was a police plane that should have been bringing help your way instead giving free rides to civilian relatives of the Air Wing commandant as they returned from holiday in Mombasa? These are uncomfortable and troubling questions to ask. But we have not asked them, or we have failed to ask them loudly enough, to articulate on your behalf what you went to your graves wondering.

Perhaps the reason why we are so quick to move on is the fact that deep down in our hearts, we know that although Al Shabaab may have pulled the triggers of the guns that abruptly ended your lives, it is not really Al Shabaab that killed you. It is us. Yes, we all have blood on our hands. For we can all still recall the eerie testimony of one of your colleagues who survived the attack. She recounted how the killers taunted you, telling you that the weapons being used to end your young lives were Kenya Government-Issued guns that had somehow ended up in the hands of the killers. “We are killing you with guns and bullets your money has been used to buy,” were some of the last words that echoed in your ears as you left this world into the next.

Over the past month, I have remembered daily the immediate aftermath of the tragedy that claimed your young lives as if reliving a nightmare. Between the echoes of heart-wrenching screams of your anguished parents as they collected your mutilated bodies from Chiromo and the eerie candles and crosses at Freedom Corner; between angry statements by politicians and dry analyses by security experts; between heartfelt poems and soulful music by artists singing to honour your memory, one vivid image stands etched indelibly in my mind. That of a lone man holding a simple banner at the vigil at Freedom Corner that simply stated: ‘Corruption Killed Them.’

In such times of national introspection and despair, there is a cliché that so easily rolls off the tongues of self-righteous politicians and pseudo-intellectual pundits: ‘Where did the rain start beating us?’ There is also much blame shifting and finger pointing. Nor am I innocent of this. I too share a part in this exercise of national obfuscation. But we have played this game for far too long. Corruption has been eating away at the soul of our nation for decades and we have either taken part in the eating or looked the other way. However, when a dragon starts to devour a society’s children, it is time for the game to stop. It is time to go to war.

But how does one go to war without an army? I, for one, do not command the Kenya Defence Forces, or I would have asked them why they chose to watch you die. I do appoint the Cabinet or the Inspector General of Police, or I would have sought answers on your behalf. I have no control over the National Intelligence Service, or I would have demanded to know how our guns ended up being used against you, our children. I have no power over Col. Rogers Mbithi, the Commandant of the Police Air Wing, or I would have immediately sent him home and ordered a full investigation into his blatant abuse of power and national resources.

But go to war I must. And I must begin by commanding the only army that I have at my disposal. The army of One. The army of myself. I hope other Kenyans of conscience will join me in the ranks of this army of ordinary people who have simply had enough. But even if they do not, I will march alone.

While many may be asking ‘Where did the rain start beating us?’ I think that is the wrong question to ask when it comes to slaying the dragon of corruption. Rather, the right question to ask is this: How did I contribute in failing to prevent the rain from starting to beat us in the first place; or what part did I play in allowing the droplets of rain to become a trickle and then a stream and then a flood that is ravaging our country and destroying our future? What part did I play in turning our homeland of Kenya from being a Heritage of Splendour into becoming a Den of Thieves?

And this brings me to my own moment of truth, the time for my own confession.

For you see, dear children, I too have your blood on my hands. For although I have tried to live a law-abiding life, I recall vividly one shame-filled week in early 1987, when I was about your age. I needed to obtain a driver’s licence. The driving instructor informed me that I could not expect to get a licence without giving a bribe of Ksh. 600. He told me that if I did not give the bribe, I would be failed more than six times, no matter how well I did in the test, and thereby I would end up paying more in the long run plus my wasted time than if I simply paid the bribe up front.  I struggled and I agonized, but finally I relented. I borrowed the money from my sister, paid the bribe and I got my licence. I have used that licence for the last 28 years. I have never caused an accident, but that does not change the fact that I have been driving illegally on our roads for the last 28 years. That is my own contribution to the rain that started beating us and the flood that ultimately cost you your lives. I would like to say just how deeply sorry I am, but ‘Sorry’ Just Isn’t Enough!

And so in honour of your memory, I shall do the second best thing.

On the first month anniversary of your tragic deaths, I shall return the illegal driver’s licence that I have been using for the last 28 years to the National Transport and Safety Authority, I shall then go to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and report my own crime, prepared to face the full consequences of the law. I shall then apply for a new driver’s licence and take the driving test with the hope of passing and correcting a wrong that ultimately contributed to the decay that cost you your lives.

Your deaths are a loss to Kenya on so many levels. Not only were you so young and so the embodiment of our future, but you had defied the demon of tribalism and travelled far from home in pursuit of your dreams and our collective hope of building one country out of many nations and one faith out of many religions. Kenya is so much the poorer without you.

Although we are all guilty for this loss, ultimately, we each have to find our own way to deal with our individual and collective guilt. As for me, I pray that I will do right by you by ensuring that you did not die in vain. That your innocent blood that flowed in that prayer room and in that class room and in that hostel at the beginning of the Easter Weekend will begin to water a newly planted tree of righteousness that will define our new character as a nation and that will strengthen our values as a people.

Fare thee well, dear children. You died as the first martyrs of the real war against corruption. It is now up to us to carry on the battle and win this war upon whose outcome depends our survival as a nation. The stakes have never been higher. May we be found worthy.

For and on behalf of the parents of Kenya,
Yours sincerely,

Njonjo Mue


147 innocent children died in Garissa on 2nd April 2015. They are the Garissa Martyrs. I am looking for 146 adults who are willing to come forward and join me in confessing to using corruption to obtain goods or services, or to evade the provisions of the law or to obtain any other undue advantage. They will return the benefits so corruptly obtained and go through the legal process of obtaining what the law entitles them to.

In honour of the Garissa Martyrs, I pray that we shall reach the 147 mark by the second month of the anniversary of their death on 2nd June. Each recruit will receive his or her own number to stand for and walk on behalf of one of each of the Garissa Martyrs. This will be the first battalion of the army of ordinary people against corruption. Will you be among the number? Please email me on njonjomue@gmail.com to register.