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Nine months after Kenya university attack, Garissa University College is reopening

The attack killed 142 students, three security officers and two university security personnel

Kenyans use hashtag #147notjustanumber to honor victims

Nairobi, Kenya CNN  — 

There have been small renovations. The walls have been painted with new colors. The dormitory where the attackers went room to room killing students has since been renamed.

A police station has been set up at the school and security presence has upped from four officers to 30.

Classes resume Monday at Garissa University College, nine months after the school experienced one of the bloodiest terrorist attacks Kenyan soil.

Gunmen stormed in at dawn, separated Muslims and shot Christians to death. In some cases, the militants forced students to call relatives to listen in during the killings.

By the time security forces arrived hours later, dead students lay in rows, others shot in the back of the head.

Most survivors were transferred to other universities nationwide for the rest of the school year.

But as the university opened its doors, students are still haunted by the massacre and one wonders if it is not too soon for classes to restart.

“Those rooms they’re in –there’s so many people’s blood there,” said Risper Nyang’au, who survived the attack. “How will you study? You will think, ‘this is where my fellow students died.’”

In April, Nyang’au was attending early morning prayers when Al Shabaab militants threw a grenade into the room and sprayed the room with bullets. As she lay on the ground, multiple bullet wounds to her leg, the attackers went on to murder 148 people, the worst terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 embassy bombings.

And today, reminders of the attack are always present for Nyang’au.

She left her Christmas vacation early to travel to Nairobi to testify in the trial of five men accused of assisting in the Garissa plot. Nyang’au still walks with a limp, having only abandoned her crutches last month.
And while she received money from the government and the college, she is still struggling to pay medical bills along with her school fees at her new university.

“If they were concerned about us they would have taken time,” Nyang’au said. Picking at a scar on her wrist – a shrapnel wound.

“Those of us who lived. We still have not healed,” she says.


Many survivors of the Garissa massacre have been reassigned to other universities across Kenya, most of them to Moi University, but Nyang’au says she still fears other attacks.

“You think it will happen again,” she said. “You hear even the bang of the door and you feel bad.”

Across the country, there have been efforts to improve school security. The government has encouraged universities across the country to train students how to respond to terror attacks. Video surveillance systems and extra police officers have been set up in schools around the country.

However, there’s no escaping the atmosphere of fear the attacks have created. Several weeks after the massacre, students at the University of Nairobi mistook several explosions of an electric transformer for an attack by Al Shabaab. Students panicked.

One student died after he jumped out of a window and as many as 108 students were treated in hospital for related injuries.

In November, one employee died from head injures when Nairobi’s Strathmore University held a ‘mock terror drill’.

The sound of gunfire terrified students, who thought it was a real attack. Photos on social media show students climbing out onto balconies. Thirty people were hospitalized for injuries.


The Islamist extremist group is based in Somalia, but it hasn’t confined its terrorism to the nation that shares a border with Kenya.

In 2013, it attacked Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall, killing nearly 70 people.

The militants have vowed to continue with attacks until Kenya withdraws troops from neighboring Somalia, where they are helping fight the terror group.

In 2014, Al Shabaab attacked a bus, killing 28, mostly non-Muslim teachers. Teachers left the region, citing insecurity. While many have been replaced, the region still has difficulty filling positions in that area.

For the residents of Garissa and its surrounding areas– there was no question as to whether to reopen the university. It is the only institution of higher learning in the region and opened in 2013.

“If we closed the school then Al Shabaab would have won because they would have shut down a center of higher learning,” said Garissa University College Principal Ahmed Warfa. “They would have been happy.”

Aden Duale, a parliament member for Garissa, said about 200 students have returned to attend classes.

Among them is Donald Waigayi. “For quite a number of years the areas didn’t have higher learning to speak of,” said Waigayi, a resident of Garissa returning to his business management studies. “Through this first institution in the area, the entire region got an opportunity to help their region.”

He added: “If some of the students say they can’t come back there it is as if they are giving into the terrorists,” Waigayi said. “But if we return and join together, then at the end of the day we will have won the war.”

Across the country, Risper Nyang’au too resumes her studies. Her ultimate goal, of all things –to be a university lecturer.

Idris Muktar and Faith Karimi contributed to this report