TIME Culture

East Africa’s American Idol Is Better

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

East Africa's version of American Idol is pioneering a less cutthroat, more human competition

Six blue-masked doctors in white coats stood before us, each monitoring an infrared detector, checking for signs of fever in travelers. It was late February, and I had just arrived at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, where I was greeted with an Ebola screening. Unlike many of the people deplaning with me, I did not come for a safari, or a post at an embassy, or to work for a non-governmental organization. I was hired to be the studio producer for an East African music talent contest show called Maisha Superstar.

Along the lines of American Idol or The Voice, this show was searching for – and helping to mold – the next big pop star from a region that includes Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. With Idol suffering from declining ratings and set to end next season, execs looking to make talent competition shows compelling would do well to look to Nairobi.

I’ve been working as a record producer, recording engineer, and mixer for nearly 20 years in L.A. I’ve never really watched TV talent competition shows in the U.S. – the music isn’t that compelling, they create false game-show drama to boost ratings, and they aren’t even effective in finding successful music acts. So why was I there in Nairobi to produce the studio recordings that would accompany a TV talent show in a country I’d never been to before?

It wasn’t for the money. The budget for our show was about 1/30th of American Idol or The Voice. I could have made more if I’d stayed in Los Angeles grinding out smaller gigs.

The answer: Eric Wainaina. We had been classmates in the late 1990s at Berklee College of Music, though barely acquaintances, then. He became a Kenyan superstar in 2001 when he released the song, “Nchi Ya Kitu Kidogo” (“Country Of Bribes”). It was a scathing indictment of governmental corruption in a country that had been effectively ruled by one party since its independence in 1963 until 2003.

Officials banned Eric’s song from playing on the national radio station. Police followed him. When invited to play at the national Kenya Music Festival, where the then vice president would be in attendance, Eric was harassed on stage. A reporter for the BBC interviewed Eric after the show and helped shine an international spotlight on Kenya’s democracy movement.

Sitting at home in Los Angeles, I heard that BBC interview one night. Here was a man who was using music not only for entertainment, but to create a different future for his country. I added a goal to my career to-do list: “Work with Eric Wainaina.” It took 11 years, but I finally got in touch with Eric in 2012 and I produced a re-mix of his song “Selina.” It would go on to become a huge regional hit.

Eric became the music director of Maisha Superstar, which was named after the show’s regional satellite network broadcaster, Maisha. Eric invited me to be the studio music producer, primarily responsible for making the recordings of each week’s songs to release online.

Viewers of any singing contest show will recognize the basic outline: auditions, performances, eliminations. At the beginning of each season, American Idol uses cattle-call auditions in several cities around the country so their panel of judges can select between 10 and 13 virtually unknown finalists. In contrast, we began with six successful “mentor” musical artists (two each from the three participating countries, which created a friendly regional rivalry) who searched their country for talent. By the end of the third episode, each of these mentors picked one “rookie finalist” to bring with them to Nairobi for the final nine performance shows.

Similar to The Voice, the rookies worked with their mentors through song choices, performances, arrangements, leaned on them for moral support, and had a week to work on new songs before the next episode. Unlike The Voice, each mentor had only one rookie artist and was fully invested in his or her development. Each pair worked as a team, but ultimately the rookies were competing against each other for the final prize (roughly $12,000, and a recording contract).

And, they also had Eric and me, working behind the scenes, coaching studio performances, rehearsing, recording, and helping to plan the staging of each contestant’s weekly song.

There were two other critical differences between Maisha Superstar and American music contest shows. First, Maisha Superstar’s scoring system was not based in any way on popular vote. Instead, an independent panel of judges (which did not include the mentors, Eric, or myself) accounted for 70 percent of the total, and the final 30 percent came from studio audience votes. Second, none of the rookies were eliminated during the first five weeks of performances. And while five weeks is a short time to try to find yourself as an artist or performer, it is a huge improvement over zero.

Because the scoring was cumulative and the eliminations were based on the rookies’ average score, one bad performance didn’t spell doom. In U.S. reality shows, there’s rarely such a safety net – we’re more interested in a Shark Tank or crowning a Survivor.

Did it work? I think it did. Having those first five weeks to sing without fear of elimination gave the rookies time to build a viewer following, which was important for ratings. It also freed the teams to try things they might not have otherwise. We had one rookie do an original song in week one.

And it gave the contestants time to find songs that resonated with the audience. For instance, even though all three countries share English as a common language, we found that contestants singing in Swahili, Luganda, or even a tribal language did very well. The judges and studio audience were all well aware of western Top 40 songs, but loved when the rookies “brought it home” with performances in their home language. Even if people didn’t understand exactly what words were being sung, the honesty of the connection the singers felt to the music was clearly more important.

There were a few bumps in the road. The cumulative scoring system over-rewarded consistency, and under-rewarded growth. At one point, attempts to plant blatant partisans in the studio audience threatened to derail the voting. When Ugandan and Tanzanian contestants felt that the Kenyans had an unfair advantage because the show was being recorded in Nairobi, a Ugandan mentor used his formidable social media presence to try to stack the audience with Ugandans who would vote for country over performance quality. The following week one of the Kenyan contestants retaliated. Suddenly we saw audience interest drop dramatically. An announcement was made about fair voting, and thankfully those attempts to stack the deck did not derail the show.

My experience with “Maisha Superstar” reinforced my feeling that music stars have rarely been instant successes. There are almost always years of work that go into their career before they hit it big. Their “overnight success” is a narrative illusion created to sell records, tickets, and often for the self-aggrandizement of the people who claim to have “discovered” a new star. But the reality is far more complex. Maisha Superstar showed that the process can be entertaining for an audience as well. And that everyone benefits from the support of those around them.

Will Kennedy is a record producer, recording engineer, and mixer based in Los Angeles, CA. He is also the co-producer of the Live At Studio Delux web series, and co-founder of the Mix Notes From Hell podcast. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME vatican city

Pope Francis May Visit Kenya in November

Pope Francis at St Peter's square on June 10, 2015.
Filippo Monteforte—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis at St Peter's square on June 10, 2015.

The idea is "possible but not sure"

(VATICAN CITY)—Pope Francis says he may add a stop in Kenya on his trip to the Central African Republic and Uganda in November.

Francis told a gathering of priests on Friday that the idea was “possible but not sure” because of organizational problems.

The trip will mark Francis’ first trip to Africa. He is currently preparing for a July trip to the three South American countries Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. And in September he goes to Cuba and the United States.

TIME Kenya

Kenya Rolls Back Threat to Close Massive Refugee Camp

An overview of the part of the eastern sector of the IFO-2 camp in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp, north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi seen on April 28, 2015.
Tony Karumba—AFP/Getty Images An overview of the part of the eastern sector of the IFO-2 camp in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp, north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi seen on April 28, 2015.

The shift came after a visit from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said Wednesday that hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in the Dadaab camp would not be forcefully repatriated, walking back a threat made last month after a deadly attack at a university by the militant group al-Shabaab.

In a statement issued by his office, according to the New York Times, citing news agencies, Kenyatta said his country “has been, and will continue, fulfilling its international obligations.” The new comments come after Kenyatta met with the United Nations’ top refugee official and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The government drew international condemnation after calling for the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp, one of the world’s largest and which houses some 350,000 Somalis, in the wake of the attack in Garissa that killed nearly 150 people, mostly students.

[New York Times]

TIME Kenya

Somali Refugees Fear Being Thrown Out of Kenya

Somali refugees look through a barbwire fence in Dagahale, one of the several refugee settlements in Dadaab, Garissa County, northeastern Kenya in 2013.
Siegfried Modola—Reuters Somali refugees look through a barbwire fence in Dagahale, one of the several refugee settlements in Dadaab, Garissa County, northeastern Kenya in 2013.

Authorities want the U.N. to close Dadaab refugee camp, which they say is used by al-Shabab to attack targets in Kenya

Salat became a member of the Islamist al-Shabab group in Somalia more by bad luck than inclination; he happened to be one of nine boys standing by the school gate when the group raided his school looking for “recruits.”

The younger boys were separated into two groups; some were sent to cook, others like Salat, were given clubs and sent into Mogadishu’s marketplaces to beat people acting outside of their interpretation of Islamic law.

“We beat the people who kept their shops open, who were not in the mosques,” he says, “They told us, during prayer time, go to the market and beat the people who were not praying. They said they would kill us if we did not listen.”

Weeks later, convinced he would be killed, Salat escaped the al-Shabab compound and fled to Kenya and the Dadaab refugee camp, home to around 350,000 mainly Somali refugees.

In the wake of the al-Shabab attack in April at Garissa University in which 148 people were killed, Kenyan vice-president William Ruto said the camp was used by al-Shabab and demanded the United Nations close Dadaab within 90 days. Leonard Zulu, an official of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Dadaab, explains that aside from the logistical impossibility of repatriating the refugees within that timeframe, returning them to Somalia would be “a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Dadaab has been good for Salat. He did not tell the U.N. of his association with al-Shabab so does not want his surname published. He first worked as a porter at the camp and he now sells the drug khat which is common and legal in East Africa. “I expected a better life here and already that’s progress. So I expect more big life changes,” he says.

Fartun Hassan, 20, has been at the camp for less than a year. She left Somalia alone after al-Shabab killed her friends at their streetside tea stand one morning. The women were killed because they often sold tea to police officers stationed nearby. Her parents are dead and she had recently lost a brother who was killed by an al-Shabab bomb targeting African Union soldiers.

Fartun missed out on education in Somalia but she is working on her English because now, she says, “I can have a future.” She hopes to be a teacher, to teach business studies and math but sees no hope in a return to Somalia.

An aerial view shows an extension of the Ifo camp, one of the several refugee settlements in Dadaab, Garissa County, northeastern Kenya in 2013.
Siegfried Modola—ReutersAn aerial view shows an extension of the Ifo camp, one of the several refugee settlements in Dadaab, Garissa County, northeastern Kenya in 2013.

Most refugees here have lived in Dadaab for decades after fleeing when Somalia collapsed into civil war in the early 1990s. Many young people were born here and for these Kenyan-born refugees, Somalia is foreign and al-Shabab are only known through news reports and gossip.

Ibrahim Omar, a 22-year-old student, was born in Dadaab, and is contemptuous of the Somalis who join al-Shabab. “Those guys in Somalia, they’re less educated. They’re given false promises that they’ll get money, power, guns, then they do suicides. They kill themselves before they even get any of that money,” he says.

Mohammed Hussein Mahamud,23, a Kenyan-born Somali student, is concerned repatriation would disrupt his last secondary school exam, scheduled for November. He needs to take it in order to go to university, and on to medical school, he explains in near-perfect English.

Salat says the camp is a major improvement on life in Somalia. “Here everybody is busy, people are working or have education. There, there is nothing to do. The only option is to join the militants in order to get your daily bread,” he says.

He is certain that he, along with his children, will be forced into al-Shabab’s ranks if his family is sent back to Somalia. “Shabab is everywhere. They cannot be finished just by closing the camp. If my kids go back there, they will recruit them like they forced me to join,” he says.

Meanwhile the United Nations continues its discussion with the Kenyan government to halt the closure of the camp and the new displacement of 350,000 people.

TIME Terrorism

These 5 Facts Explain Terrorism in Kenya

Family members sit on a bench as they wait to view the bodies of their loved ones who had been killed in an attack on Garissa University College, at a mortuary in Nairobi on April 8, 2015.
Dai Kurokawa—EPA Family members sit on a bench as they wait to view the bodies of their loved ones who had been killed in an attack on Garissa University College, at a mortuary in Nairobi on April 8, 2015.

Porous borders,a bad economy and corruption have made Kenya a sitting target for al-Shabab

The tragic Garissa University College attack in Kenya on April 2 led to 147 deaths and a global outpouring of shock and sympathy. But it didn’t approach the intense level of commentary—from journalists and world leaders alike—that the Charlie Hebdo attack in France garnered, despite a far higher death toll. To put this tragedy in context, it’s important to understand the state of play between al-Shabab and Kenya. Here are five stats on the attacks that cover everything from the porous Kenya-Somalia border to the cash incentive for would-be terrorist recruits.

1. Kenya suffers more than its share

The fight against al-Shabab in East Africa is a regional effort. With 3,664 people deployed, Kenya provides fewer personnel to the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia than Uganda, Ethiopia or Burundi do. Yet it is Kenya that has borne the brunt of al-Shabab’s attacks outside Somalia. Since 2012, the group has killed over 600 people in Kenya. There has been only one major attack outside Somalia’s borders that didn’t target Kenya: the 2010 Kampala bombings. The Garissa siege was the deadliest terror attack in Kenya since the 1998 al-Qaeda bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi.

(The Boston Globe, Council on Foreign Relations, The New York Times, The Washington Post)

2. The problem of porous borders

A porous border helps Al-Shabab target Kenya. Though the Kenyan government has announced plans to build a wall along parts of the 424 mile-long border with Somalia, the structure could cost as much as $17 billion—and it wouldn’t address other glaring issues. Kenya’s police force is among the most corrupt in East Africa; members of al-Shabab can easily buy passage and visas from officials. Payments to officers made up almost 50% of all bribes in Kenya in 2014. Garissa County is particularly vulnerable. The area is home to Dadaab, one of the world’s biggest refugee camps with over 336,000 Somalis. Garissa was the victim of more than a fifth of al-Shabab’s attacks in Kenya between 2009 and 2013.

(Global Terrorism Database, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, BBC)

3. Weak security

The siege at Garissa lasted nearly 15 hours. Yet, security forces were only deployed 7 hours after the attack began, and there was a two-hour briefing when they arrived in the area. They didn’t enter the university until 11 hours had passed. Why the glacial response? The two fixed-wing planes that security forces flew in were too small for all of the officers and their equipment; no police choppers were available. Despite legislation passed in 2011 to overhaul the police, intelligence and defense forces in Kenya, not much progress has been made. Anti-terror police units in Nairobi have a budget as low as $735 per month for operations, and police officers are paid around $200 per month. For comparison, some Kenyan parliamentarians earn up to $15,000 monthly. According to some estimates, over 300,000 people are employed as private security guards in Kenya, whereas Kenya’s police force numbers approximately 60,000.

(The Boston Globe, Daily Mail, Daily Nation, Aljazeera)

4. Local tensions

Muslims make up about a tenth of Kenya’s population, and they reside primarily in the Northeast and along the coast. These communities lag in development, due to limited public and private investment, giving rise to local tension and instability. The northeast region bordering Somalia, an area the size of Mississippi, has less than 100 miles of tarmacked roads. Kenyan-Somali clan conflict and banditry has led to past conflicts in the area, including the 1980 Garissa massacre and the 1984 Wagalla massacre—resulting in the deaths of over 4,000 ethnic Somalis. Though Garissa County is a predominantly ethnic Somali area, students from across Kenya attend the university. The Shabab attackers singled out Christians for execution.

(The Guardian, The World Post, Aljazeera, Climate Change and Security Conference, The New York Times)

5. Recruiting made easy

Al-Shabab translates to ‘the youth’ in Arabic, a fitting name for an organization that feeds off limited opportunities for young people in the region. According to BBC News, roughly a quarter of al-Shabab’s 7,000-9,000 forces are Kenyan. Many of them were attracted to al-Shabab’s high salaries for new recruits, which are reportedly more than $1,000. Meanwhile, the average monthly wage in Kenya is $76 ($912 annual). Some 70% of working class youth are currently unemployed.

(BBC News (a), BBC News (b), Reuters, Aljazeera)

TIME Kenya

Kenyans Are Using the #147NotJustaNumber Hashtag to Honor Those Killed at Garissa

Kenyans attend a candle lit vigil late Tuesday at Uhuru park in capital Nairobi in memory of the people killed in last week's deadly attack on northern Kenya's Garissa University College, on April 7, 2015.
Recep Canik—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Kenyans attend a candle lit vigil late Tuesday at Uhuru park in capital Nairobi in memory of the people killed in last week's deadly attack on Kenya's Garissa University College, on April 7, 2015.

The powerful campaign aims to "humanize the victims of terror"

Kenyans have launched a social media campaign to remember those who died at last week’s massacre at Garissa University College in eastern Kenya, where terrorist al-Shabaab gunmen killed 148 people, most of them students aged between 19 and 23.

Using the hashtag #147notjustanumber, people are posting pictures of loved ones to Twitter and often sharing biographical details to give faces to the people behind the grim, anonymous death toll.

Among the many heartbreaking stories of loss is 22-year-old Gideon Kirui, whose whole village had raised money for him to go to university. There is Selpher Wandia, 21, who dreamed of becoming a teacher, and Peter Masinde, 32, an officer who was shot as he entered the campus. He leaves behind a pregnant wife.

Ory Okolloh Mwangi started the campaign on Sunday, when the number of victims was still being counted. She told the Wall Street Journal that the hashtag was “an effort to humanize the victims of terror.”

On Wednesday, hundreds of people held a candle-lit vigil in the capital, Nairobi to remember those who died, the BBC reports. Ahead of the vigil, about 2,500 people marched in Garissa and several hundred in Nairobi, demanding tighter security at colleges and campuses and answers for how the attacks could happen.

TIME Crime

Kenyan Government Names Suspected Mastermind of University Attack

Senior Al-Shabab officer Mohamed Mohamud alias Sheik Dulayadayn addresses in Mogadishu, Somalia on Jan. 1, 2011.
Feisal Omar—Reuters Senior Al-Shabab officer Mohamed Mohamud alias Sheik Dulayadayn addresses in Mogadishu, Somalia on Jan. 1, 2011.

Mohamed Mohamud's al Qaeda-linked group has launched deadly attacks on Kenyans before

Mohamed Mohamud is the architect of a terrorist attack on Garissa University College in Kenya that killed nearly 150 people on Thursday, the government said Sunday.

The senior leader of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab is known by the aliases Dulyadin and Gamadhere, and is credited by Kenya’s Interior Ministry with “having an extensive terrorist network within Kenya,” according to documents obtained by CNN.

The ministry posted a “Most Wanted” notice for Mohamud on Twitter, offering 20 million shillings, or $215,000, for his capture.

The Al-Shabaab group is affiliated with al-Qaeda and based in Somalia. The militant group’s reach extends over the Kenyan border to the Dadaab refugee camp, the largest in the world, in Kenya’s North Eastern Province near Somalia.

TIME Al-Shabaab

Kenyans Blame Corrupt Government for Escalating al-Shabab Violence

Plainclothes policemen stand in front of a crowd which came to see bodies of suspected Garissa University College attackers in a school compound in Garissa
Goran Tomasevic—Reuters Plainclothes policemen stand in front of a crowd which came to see bodies of suspected Garissa University College attackers in a school compound in Garissa, Kenya on April 4, 2015.

Many Kenyans have lost faith in their government's ability to keep them safe

When al-Shabab militants stormed University College of Garissa early on Thursday morning no one knew that by the end of the day 148 would be dead, constituting Kenya’s deadliest terrorist attack in 17 years.

What most Kenyans did know is that they had lost faith in their government’s ability to keep Kenya safe from al-Shabab’s increasingly deadly presence. Since 2011, it is estimated that more than 300 people have been killed by terrorist attacks in Kenya.

“This is an issue of security and the government. It’s not an issue that is starting now — it’s been an issue that has been going on for a while. The security matter should be taken seriously and they’ve completely neglected the issue,” said Hussein Malaam, a student at University College of Garissa who was awoken early on the morning of the attacks by a phone call from a friend warning him not to go to school. That was when Malaam started to hear gunshots coming from the nearby university.

The gunmen first fired indiscriminately into the campus before zeroing in on students in their dormitories, most of whom were fast asleep when the attack started. By midmorning, students had been evacuated from three of four of the student hostels. At the last hostel, gunmen reportedly separated Muslim students out for freedom, taking non-Muslim students hostage or executing them on the spot.

“The people were trapped here for 13 hours — where was the government? They failed to protect their people,” said Farhiya Haji, a high school student from a nearby village who had walked two hours the day after the attack to see what was happening for herself at the gates of the university. “We don’t feel safe here and the government isn’t doing anything to protect us.”

By Saturday, most surviving students had been bused to Nairobi to be reunited with their families. Those critically injured had been airlifted to the capital city in the preceding days. Around midmorning, emergency response teams received word that several surviving students had been found in the university. They had climbed the rafters to hide in the ceiling, waiting there for days as security teams cleared the university of remaining students.

The four terrorists were killed and their bodies were brought to the morgue at Garissa Hospital on Saturday where local and international forensics teams performed autopsies. The bodies, bloating and rotting in northeastern Kenya’s sweltering sun, were then displayed at Garissa Primary School for the community, searching for a sense of justice or certainty, to see.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry told the Associated Press on Sunday that one of the gunmen was identified as the son of a Kenyan government official, a law graduate who was reported missing last year and thought to have traveled to Somalia.

Kenya’s security situation has continued to deteriorate since the 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, where 67 people were killed. Late last year, al-Shabab militants carried out two attacks in Mandera, also in northern Kenya. In the first attack, 28 people were killed and in the second, 36. Both times gunmen identified Muslims and freed them while shooting or decapitating non-Muslims.

“It’s not that al-Shabab is so good at what they’re doing — the government just does such a terrible job that they make them look good. Al-Shabab is probably at its weakest point since 2006,” said Abdullahi B. Halakhe, a Nairobi-based East Africa researcher with Amnesty International.

The university is located just off Kismayo Road, the main drag that cuts through Garissa and stretches about 90 miles to the Somali border; a border whose porous nature is blamed for a great deal of the insecurity in Kenya. “It’s very clear that the Kenya police is probably the most corrupt institution in this country, folks crossing the border have to pay less than $200 and they can cross over,” said Halakhe, referring to the ease with which anyone, including al-Shabab, can enter Kenya.

“Entrenched corruption in the security system allows al-Shabab to move freely in and out of Kenya and carry out such attacks with ease,” said prominent Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi in a statement online.

Kenya ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, landing 145th out of 174 on Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perception Index. The Kenyan police rank as the most corrupt institution in Kenya.

Earlier in the week, Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission published a report detailing allegations of corruption against 175 government officials. In a potentially positive step, President Uhuru Kenyatta made a speech in response to the report pressuring the public officials named to step down pending investigations. Five ministers have done so.

“The biggest problem in this country that needs to be tackled is corruption. Corruption is the biggest contribution to insecurity in this country. Its an impediment to everything — without it we could be a very rich nation,” said Hassan Sheikh Ali, the former leader of Garissa University.

In an address to the nation on Saturday, Kenyatta reiterated his concern about “the pervasive threat of corruption to our aspirations as a people.

“What else but corruption of the worst and most criminal kind,” he continued, “is it for Kenyans to finance, hide and recruit on behalf of al-Shabab?”

In addition to worries about corruption, many have accused the Kenyan government of not taking credible security threats seriously. “There was no doubt that northeastern Kenya has become insecure,” said Rashid Abdi, an Independent Horn of Africa analyst. “I think there was enough intelligence that education institutions and basically any facilities with non-Muslims in northeastern Kenya were at risk; I’m surprised that that college wasn’t sufficiently protected.”

Universities across Kenya had issued security warnings in the weeks preceding the attacks including on March 25 when the chief security officer of the University of Nairobi issued a terror-threat alert that stated, “Intelligence reports indicate that the al-Shabab terror group is planning retaliatory attacks on vital installations in Nairobi including a major university.”

Britain and Australia also issued fresh travel advisories earlier in the week, warning citizens of Kenya’s increasing insecurity. President Kenyatta fired back, stating that Kenya was as safe as anywhere else. “The travel advisories being issued by our friends are not genuine. I have not heard of any travel advisory issued to those visiting Paris, which recently experienced a terror attack,” he said.

Al-Shabab has consistently attributed its attacks on Kenyan soil to Kenya’s 2011 invasion of Somalia. Titled Operation Linda Nchi, the invasion was allegedly in response to the kidnapping of Westerners in northeastern Kenya. “Since October 2011, Kenya has been the most insecure that we have seen in decades. If going into Somalia was to secure Kenya, then they have failed,” said Halakhe. “The elephant in the room [is] what is Kenya’s plan as far as Somalia is concerned?” added Halakhe. “What does the exit plan look like? Is it two years, is it three years?”

President Kenyatta responded to the attacks by saying, “I also assure the nation that my government has undertaken appropriate deployment to the affected area, and is fully seized of the situation … This is a moment for everyone throughout the country to be vigilant as we continue to confront and defeat our enemies.”

He also directed the inspector general of police to fast-track the enrollment of 10,000 police recruits, saying, “We have suffered unnecessarily due to shortage of security personnel. Kenya badly needs additional officers, and I will not keep the nation waiting.”

Even this move, however, has come under criticism as the initial reason for the delayed enrollment of the 10,000 recruits was concerns over irregularities and corruption during the recruitment process.

“The selection process is flawed, favoring brawn to brains as thousands of unemployed graduates languish. The working conditions are terrible and the primary motivation for many recruits joining the police force is the bribery paradise they work in,” said Mwangi, the activist. “The fact that it took the police over 10 hours to contain four gunmen calls into question their standards of training as well.”

For the hundreds of surviving students at the University of Garissa, and for the families of those killed, the results of these politics are all too real. “I spent the day at the hospital and the morgue trying to find my missing friends,” said Malaam. “I went to the mortuary and I became so scared. Especially when I saw someone I knew. You feel so bad when you see a friend of yours who has been killed.”

TIME Kenya

Al-Shabaab Says Kenyan Cities Will Run ‘Red With Blood’

Attack on Kenya's Garissa University College
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images Security forces guard after Al-Shabaab terrorists shot the students' way into Garissa University College, at least 147 students were killed and 79 injured, in Nairobi, Kenya, on April 2.

"No amount of precaution or safety measures will be able to guarantee your safety"

The Somali terror group behind Thursday’s deadly assault on a Kenyan college campus threatened a “long, gruesome war” against the country, according to a media report on Saturday.

Reuters reports that it received an emailed statement from al-Shabaab that said Kenya’s cities would run “red with blood.”

In a televised speech on Saturday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya would “do everything to defend our way of life,” and vowed not to allow al-Shabaab to create an Islamic caliphate in Kenya, according to Reuters. The President also declared three days of national mourning.

Early Thursday morning, assailants armed with guns and grenades attacked the Garissa University College Campus, targeting Christian students and killing at least 148 people, mostly students, with the death toll expected to rise. Kenyan officials said they found one survivor on the campus on Saturday.

The Somali-based al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, and in the statement to Reuters said it was in retribution for Kenya’s participation in the African Union-led fight against the group in Somalia and for mistreatment of Muslims in Kenya. The group was also responsible for the siege of an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi that left 67 people dead.

“No amount of precaution or safety measures will be able to guarantee your safety, thwart another attack or prevent another bloodbath from occurring in your cities,” the group said, according to Reuters. “This will be a long, gruesome war of which you, the Kenyan public, are its first casualties.”


TIME Kenya

Mourning Turns to Anger in Kenya After College Massacre

Kenya's National Assembly majority leader Aden Duale delivers a speech during a rally in Garissa, Kenya, on April 3, 2015. More than one thousand local residents attended the rally to emphasis security and condemn terrorist activities.
Sun RuiboXinhua/Landov Kenya's National Assembly majority leader Aden Duale delivers a speech during a rally in Garissa, Kenya, on April 3, 2015. More than one thousand local residents attended the rally to emphasis security and condemn terrorist activities.

The death toll is expected to rise

Hundreds joined a protest in the Kenyan town of Garissa against the Islamist group al-Shabaab on Friday, a day after the militants from neighboring Somalia stormed a nearby college campus and killed at least 147 people.

The assault has rocked the nation and also raised questions about security measures after multiple warnings of a potential terror attack were raised in the days prior.

“It’s because of laxity by the government that these things are happening. For something like this to happen when there are those rumors is unacceptable,” Mohamed Salat, a Somali Kenyan businessman, told Reuters.

Early Thursday, assailants armed with guns and grenades attacked the Garissa University College Campus, targeting Christian students and killing nearly 150 people, mostly students, with the death toll expected to rise.

The al-Shabaab terror group claimed responsibility for the attack, its latest in a series of assaults that it says are in retribution for Kenya’s participation in the African Union-led fight against the group in Somalia.

On Friday, President Barack Obama said he spoke with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and said he still plans to visit Kenya in July, a trip the White House announced earlier this week.


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