Garissa: African lives do matter

Western media reports on the Garissa University College attacks in Kenya, where 148 students were killed by al-Shabaab militants, have been sparse. Social media users have been vocal about their outrage at the “complicit silence” regarding what the Pope called “senseless brutality”.

Image description Kenyans held a vigil for the 148 students who were killed at the Garissa University College shootings last week. The international community and media have not been very supportive of Kenya according to some observers. (Image: Twitter)


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Shamin Chibba

Observers around the world are disappointed with the world’s media and the international community for the sparse support it has given to the 148 students who were killed by al-Shabaab at Garissa University College in Kenya on Thursday, 2 April.

Compared to the media’s overwhelming reaction when 12 people were killed in the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris on 7 January, observers say the incident in Kenya has hardly been noticed.

Facebook user Jean Gilles St Armand said the world ignored atrocities that took place in Africa. “When there is an attack in Europe, the whole world is shocked and asking for a rally in solidarity with the victims in less than 24 hours by posting this and that: ‘Je suis Charlie; nous sommes Charlie etc…’ When there is an attack in Africa, the whole world is being silent and passive as they are watching a football match.”

In his blog post, “Most people won’t share this… because African lives don’t matter!”, British writer and presenter Antoine Allen lamented that the West would neither acknowledge nor seek retribution for the killings. “There will be no foreign leaders’ photo opportunity or Je suis… hashtag. Most newspapers won’t run their tragic deaths on any front page.”

He quoted Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek when explaining the Western reaction to non-western deaths:

“Over the last decade, 4-million people died in the Democratic Republic of Congo – mostly political killings. Time magazine ran a cover story in 2006, titled The Deadliest War in the World, chronicling this state of affairs. But there was no uproar, no one took up on it. Comparatively, the death of a West Bank Palestinian child, not to mention an Israeli or an American, is mediatically worth thousands of times more than the death of a nameless Congolese… and yet the US media reproaches the public in foreign countries for not displaying enough sympathy for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.”

On Australian radio station SBS, the chairman of the Kenyan Association of New South Wales, Paul Ogunah, said he would like to see world leaders show their solidarity with the Kenyans the same way they did with the French when Charlie Hebdo was attacked.

“It seems as if the issue is more or less Kenyan-based as opposed to international. Yet Kenya is just a part of the international community and this issue of terrorism knows no boundaries. So when things come like this, we expect the international community to rally to support, whether it is finance or intelligence. And it’s got to be overt rather than putting a slight voice to it.”

Twitter erupting

A day after the attacks, on 3 April, Twitter users criticised the media for the lack of coverage:

However, since the Twitterverse erupted with such comments, media have stepped up their coverage of the incident. Kenyan news website Daily Nation reported that major news outlets such as Reuters, CNN and Al Jazeera have been covering the tragedy from day one. And the hashtag #148notjustanumber is gaining traction on Twitter, with Kenyans intent on commemorating each victim.

World leaders’ reactions

US President Barack Obama said he would join the world in mourning the deaths of the students. Kenya would not be shaped by such terrorist attacks but by determined students such as those who were killed, he added. “We will stand hand-in-hand with the Kenyan Government and people against the scourge of terrorism and in their efforts to bring communities together. This much is clear: the future of Kenya will not be defined by violence and terror; it will be shaped by young people like those at Garissa University College – by their talents, their hopes, and their achievements.”

Obama has assured Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta that he will still visit Kenya in July despite the attack.

During a Good Friday service, Pope Francis condemned the attacks on the students, saying “complicit silence” made it easy for Christians not just in Kenya but around the world to be persecuted. In a telegram to the Archbishop of Nairobi, the pontiff expressed his deep sadness at the attacks and described it as senseless brutality.