The name of Garissa county in Kenya was heard all over the world after al-Shabaab shot dead 148 people – 142 of them students – at Garissa University College in April 2015. But the story of the mounting violence leading up to that horrific attack, of how and why it happened, and of how local communities, leaders and the government came together in the aftermath to improve the security situation, is less well known. 

But when you ask around, it quickly becomes clear that Garissa is a place where divisions and dangers persist – connected to its historic marginalisation, local and national political rivalries in Kenya, and the ebb and flow of conflict in neighbouring Somalia. Since the attack, the security situation has improved in Garissa county, yet this may offer no more than a short window for action to solve the challenges and divisions that matter to local people – before other forces and agendas reassert their grip.

This article by Saferworld tells Garissa’s story as we heard it from people living there. Because Garissa stepped back from the brink of terror-induced polarisation and division, it is in some ways a positive story with global policy implications.

A woman is stricken with grief after the Garissa University College attack. The shockwaves led local communities to come together in rejecting further violence. Photo: Stringer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

A woman is stricken with grief after the Garissa University College attack. The shockwaves led local communities to come together in rejecting further violence. Photo: Stringer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Our research in Garissa contributes to our global work to research and explore peacebuilding responses to terrorism and migration.


Header photo: Mural at Garissa University College. Photo: © Garissa University College