Two Garissa County schools remain closed for the second consecutive week after teachers started fleeing the area after a recent attack targeting police, and the only government-run medical facility has lost nearly all its staff due to security fears.
Suspected al-Shabaab members raided Kulan Administration Police camp near Dadaab Refugee camp on May 8th, Garissa’s Director of Criminal Investigations Department Musa Yego said.
“The attack on security forces bears the hallmark of al-Shabaab group,” he told Sabahi, adding that police are yet to establish a motive for the attack. “Police are not ruling anything out, including kidnappings, as the intentions of the group.”
Yego said police officers at the camp managed to repulse the gunmen after about 30 minutes, with only one police officer injured. Several attackers also sustained injuries in the clashes, but all fled the scene.
On Wednesday (May 14th), police found three bodies, suspected to belong to some of the attackers who had been injured, on the outskirts of the town after receiving a tip from herdsmen in the area, he said.
800 students forced out of classes
Although police were able to repel the attackers, the incident sparked security concerns among residents and civil servants.
Kulan Primary School head teacher Michael Mugumo said his school and neighbouring Kulan Secondary School closed on May 9th, a day after the attack on police.
“The schools’ management was forced to shut down the schools indefinitely after more than ten teachers fled and parents withdrew their children because of security fears,” he told Sabahi.
He said students and teachers had just resumed classes two days earlier after their month-long school holiday.
More than 800 students in the two schools have been affected by the closures, said Mugumo, adding that they are working with county officials on ways to resume classes.
“It is a genuine security concern because if the gunmen have the audacity to attack security personnel who are armed, they can overrun a school with horrible consequences,” he said.
According to Garissa County Assembly Member Hussein Ahmed Bashir of Liboi ward, medical staff at the only government-run health facility in the area have also fled their posts.
“Kulan dispensary has only four health workers. Three of them fled immediately after the attack,” he told Sabahi. “The hospital has not closed yet and the only staff left is also considering moving, which will greatly disadvantage patients who may seek services.”
‘Security is paramount’
Bashir also said a directive from the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) may have played part in the teachers fleeing Kulan.
“KNUT officials are on record telling teachers in border schools to flee for their lives if their security is at stake,” he said. “I believe the teachers’ move is drastic because security has been strengthened following a series of attacks attributed to al-Shabaab.”
“It will be understandable if the teachers and the medical personnel who have fled have evidence that they were the target of the attack,” he said. “[But] by fleeing they are giving the criminals victory they do not deserve.”
For his part, KNUT Garissa branch chairman Ibrahim Atosh said ensuring teachers’ security was paramount.
“We have lost teachers in border town schools since 2011 to attacks blamed on al-Shabaab.
We do not have to wait for more loses to happen,” he said, adding that teachers in other schools along the Kenya-Somalia border may also flee over threats by the al-Shabaab incursions.
“We are equally concerned for the plight of students, but the security of the teachers and everyone is paramount,” he said.
“We recently saw that police discovered explosives in Garissa Primary School playground. The incident shows that the criminals can target even innocent students.”
“Once the government can guarantee security, the teachers will resume classes,” Atosh said.
Parents, officials call on teachers to return
Ibrahim Hussein Abdi, 43, who has a son in Kulan Secondary School, said local residents are angry about the school closures because their children are losing out on valuable education time.
“Schools countrywide just opened on May 7th after a month-long holiday,” he told Sabahi. “It feels like an extended holiday for our children who will lose because they will sit for the same test with the rest of students in the country.”
Abdi called on the government to boost security in the area to ensure the continuation of learning in schools.
Garissa County Commissioner Rashid Khator also urged civil servants to return to work in Kulan, saying security personnel had been reinforced even before the attack and were on high alert.
“There were specific threats on some of the border towns that made us reinforce security personnel in the identified areas including Kulan in March,” he told Sabahi. “The police gallantly fought off the gunmen, meaning that they were alert to protect lives and property of the community in the area.”