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The one word no one is saying after the Garissa attack

The need to write something immediately after the horrific slaughter of our students in Garissa was overwhelming. I had to resist, though. An event this brutal and unprecedented requires some reflection and some perspective.

And so I have been able to observe the reactions of others. I looked on aghast as the supposed perpetrators of the atrocity trumpeted their glee, justifying in their diseased minds the massacre of young innocents. I watched CNN splash the grisly event all over its screens – not bothering to even place Kenya correctly on a map. I looked on as our own government went into full-tilt propaganda mode, denying again that there was any deficiency in its response to an act so heinous.

I listened to the lobbing of accusations, and the parrying and hurling of counter-accusations. I watched as the parents of those children were subjected to yet more indescribable pain: that of identifying their child’s lifeless form in chaotic circumstances.

Radicalisation, fundamentalism, incompetence, corruption, revenge, intolerance, crackdown – these words were tossed around at will. But in all the cacophony, one word was conspicuously missing, barely whispered, avoided at all costs. And that word is SHAME.

Yes, shame. We all need to feel it acutely and say it openly.

First, the evil perpetrators, whoever they are. Reports of their cruelty suggest they are beyond shame, but somewhere in the collective consciousness of their sympathisers must come a deep feeling of shame. No cause in the world can warrant the taunting of children (and their parents) before massacring them.

Second, this government. The first thing to do here was not to highlight the response to the event, nor to claim anything approaching a success. Adequate security was not put in place. There was the usual disarray in decision-making and deployment of the right forces. And the scenes at the mortuary beggared belief. For all of that, shame is the only response.

Third, the rest of us. We have all stood and watched the degeneration of our nation. We have known how deeply corrupt we are as a society, and how self-gain is the only thing we worship. We have watched this descent over the decades, but have hidden behind all sorts of fake rationalizations: we’re doing the best we can; other countries are worse; those who criticise us are hypocrites.

Hide all you want, folks, but those veils are tattered and blood-stained. The truth is, those who benefit from corruption and patronage and graft networks don’t want any of it changed. There are not enough of us willing to fight the clean fight.

If we want to honour those senseless deaths, we must accept that a line has finally been crossed. This is finally too much. We cannot look on as young innocents are butchered and carry on with business as usual. We just can’t.

Deep reflection and investigation are needed of the nature of this enemy, and who this enemy really is. This must be followed by concerted action and sweeping change. However, those are secondary steps. The first and most fundamental thing we need to do right now is to feel shame, to feel it in the depths of our collective psyche. You cannot solve a problem until you have understood and accepted your fault in creating that problem.

For that, we have to reject this world we have created. A world in which cruel slaughter is the only way to settle disputes. In which personal gain trumps all sense of collective spirit. In which we paper over the cracks in the facade and never address the rot within.

Meanwhile, applause for those hardy spirits who rescued so many children, who gave succour to their grief-stricken parents, who gave their children names, not numbers. They show the good that is still in us.

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