Garissa #147NotJustANumber

2015-04-12 15:00

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We will name them. One by one. They are these ‘young Africans’ we speak of all the time. Chasing dreams. #147NotJustANumber”

– Ory Okolloh Mwangi

Kenyan blogger and activist Ory Okolloh Mwangi’s response to the seemingly nonchalant attitude of the world – including Africans – in response to the Garissa massacre was to launch a media campaign. It has captured the hearts of many as it builds with a growing swell of voices.

Mwangi – who tweets as @kenyanpundit – refuses to let those who were lost be forgotten. She, Boniface Mwangi, and many others are paying tribute to them by getting the hashtag #147NotJustANumber to trend on social media.

NotJustANumber aims to humanise the victims of the al-Shabaab terror attack through the initiative.

The campaign calls for all those who knew the victims to tweet and post pictures of the deceased, along with a caption of who they were and what they meant to their loved ones. It is a space for things to be said to those who survived the attack, while also giving comfort to the families who lost members, including potential breadwinners.

NotJustANumber has staged vigils and strived to name each of the dead. The hashtag has received thousands of responses and the world now knows what the faces of the tragedy look like.

It is no longer just another unexplainable African tragedy with sketchy details. The names of the students, soldiers and other victims are known to social-media users who have now been exposed to the full extent of the horrific act. A community made up of people from across the globe is now collectively mourning the unprecedented loss of young African lives.

A wall of photos represent some of the students who were killed during the attack. Picture: Reuters

I want to know the stories of all the dead

Following the loss of 147 lives in the Garissa University College massacre, Kenyan author and journalist Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina wrote about the importance of remembering the tragedy as an event that would be felt deeply by the country.

He writes about the need to “memorialise” every person lost in the attack. It is a call for Kenyans and Africans to intentionally feel the collective loss.

He writes:

I want to go to a place. A piece of ground, also a place online, where we can find the names of all those who have died for Kenya since 1963.

I want to know their names. I want to walk and walk, listen and witness, know the lives of those no longer visible to me, but whose blood mattered.

I want the children I may have to visit and walk through our stories. I want schools to go there.

We are not a nation if we can’t properly and fully memorialise each and every citizen we lose. I want to see the names, ages and photographs of those who died in Mpeketoni. Those killed during PEV (post-election violence). Stories. Forgetting is not good.

It is in these acts that our public awareness reawakens. The politics of saying we are not ready to face ourselves, the fullness of our pain, is the same politics that allows us to ignore it when a Kenyan strips the institution they are given to run, strips it dry, dry, and returns like a zombie, a plastic rubber-band zombie in some new form, to govern somewhere else again.

I want a public again. I want a random church choir knocking on my door at Easter to sing at my door. I want to see 3?million Nairobians flooding the streets to cry, sing, and hug because our children have been killed. I want to stop feeling we live inside the private. I want never to hear the word self-empowerment again. I am the product of a nation that empowered me.

I am a child of municipal council schools, a child of the Kenya National Library Service, of Provincial General Hospital, Nakuru.

I want thousands of names inscribed in Uhuru Park. I want each name to have a story. I want to see the names ... Stories ... Photographs.

It is not enough to send M-Pesa to Red Cross. I want to be a citizen of a nation that is not just Electoristan.

My heart is dull with pain, and I feel the pull to cover it all with that hard, now familiar, Kenyan cynicism and move on, which really means suck the very remaining soul of it dry.

Kenyans attend a memorial vigil at Freedom Corner in Nairobi this past week. Picture: Reuters

147

MEMORY POEMS

Responding to the hashtag, writer Isaac Otidi Amuke decided to launch a series of short poems outlining what he imagines to be the thoughts of the 147 dead. It is his way of humanising those who have passed away

‘I wanted to stand up and plead and say I volunteer in the local community but before I completed the thought and imagine standing up twaaaa! – 14 of 147’

‘dear world how did’n we inside our lecture halls become pawns in your game of chess? – 20 of 147’

‘first day of school blunt pencil and brand new sketch book last day of school AK47s and blood spewed books. – 23 of 147’

‘papa you always said stay in school I stayed in school papa they got me. – 25 of 147’

‘dear gunman in the entire orientation week in first year no one taught us how to dodge bullets or did I miss something? – 29 of 147’

‘you walk in reminding me of the police-robber game we played as kids but if you bring back such tender memories why do you start shooting? – 31 of 147’

‘Kenya you love us thank you but why did it have to take a gunman? we love you back just asking. – 32 of 147’

‘if we had a choice between obscure lives or instant fame in death we’d all be alive today. – 34 of 147’

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