Garissa attack: No Charlie Hebdo here; first to march were fellow university students around the world

Students in the world organised solidarity marches, memorials, and flew their flags half-mast within days of the Garissa massacre.

THIS Tuesday marks 365 days since the Chibok girls kidnapping, when 276 girls were seized from their school in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram militants. The girls are suspected to have been sold into slavery across the Nigerian border, perhaps in Chad or Niger, or married off to the militants.

It is likely to be one of the first items on President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s agenda. Nigerians are waiting to see if Buhari’s tough-talking, no-nonsense stance will quash the Boko Haram insurgency, and resolving the Chibok girls issue will perhaps be the biggest indication that the Buhari administration means business.

This week will also mark five months since the deadly Peshawar school shooting in Pakistan, in which Tehrik-i-Taliban gunmen killed 145 people, 132 of whom were students aged between eight and eighteen. It is Pakistan’s deadliest terror attack to date.

This week will also mark a fortnight since the grisly attack on students at Garissa University in Kenya, in which 147 were killed by al-Shabaab terrorists. The images of the students executed in their classrooms, and scores shot in the back of the head while lying face down, horrified many.

Students are a favourite target of terror groups around the world, because they represent the future of a country – and so targeting them will elicit a strong emotional backlash from the state.

“We feel that any university is a center for knowledge production. It’s a centre where prospective future leaders are groomed. We feel that an attack on a university is an attack on our future… and on change agents that this continent so desperately needs,” Amnesty International Student Chapter’s deputy president Thato Nkosi is quoted to have said, while announcing a solidarity vigil at the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

 It has been suggested that the world – and Africa in particular – gave the Garissa attack a rather lukewarm reaction, compared to, say, the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January, in which world leaders, including six African presidents, rushed to Paris to march in solidarity with the French.

But in the wake of the Garissa attack, one of the first groups to respond were fellow students around the world. They organised solidarity marches, memorials, and flew their flags half-mast within days of the news coming out of Garissa.

They joined students in Kenya from the University of Nairobi, Moi University and Egerton University, who held demonstrations demanding that the government guarantees their safety and security.

Here’s a roll call of how university students from around the world reacted to the terror attack in Kenya:

Just two days after the attack, students from the Central University in Venezuela re-created a grisly scene from Garissa, by lying on the floor in their classroom playing dead, and others standing over them holding placards condemning the attack.

Students from the University of Cape Town, South Africa held an overnight vigil on 7 April, four days after the attack, organised by UCT’s East African Society.

The University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg also held a vigil on 7 April, and also held a march through the campus in silence the following day to remember the victims.

In Uganda, students from Makerere University marched through the streets of Kampala on 9 April condemning the killings, holding placards that said, “An attack on students in Kenya is a direct attack on all students on the continent.”

France’s interuniversity council declared a minute of silence at all French universities and colleges on 9 April at 12pm to commemorate the victims, saying in a statement that “the barbaric act [in Garissa] is contrary to the knowledge and freedom that symbolises universities all around the world.”

In Italy, the University of Turin also observed a minute of silence on 10 April at 12pm.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the University of the West Indies created a memorial to the slain students, and asked its own students to make a show of solidarity by leaving a pen at the memorial. “Pens are symbolic of learning that crosses geographical, ethnic, gender, religious and all other boundaries… [they] will serve as a symbol of solidarity because they are a student’s ‘weapon’ – mightier than any sword,” UWI’s administration said.

And at University of Manitoba in Canada, the administration building’s flags were flying at half-mast in commemoration of the attack.


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