It feels like yesterday, even though it has been a year now. On a brighter Easter morning, gunmen who were eventually linked to the terrorist organization Al Shabaab stormed the Garissa University in north-eastern Kenya and darkened the day with the blood and lives of over 147 people – an overwhelming number of students – before they were themselves killed. In the weeks and months that followed, the individual stories of the victims were told and retold and it was tremendously sad to think about the lives and futures the violent act of a few men had robbed the world.
The April 2nd events at Garissa are not a misnomer. They are now the norm and not the exception. From Nigeria to Belgium, France to Cote d’Ivoire and beyond, terrorist attacks are now an almost daily experience. Even more worryingly, they are no longer restricted to established hotbeds of terror but have since moved in recent times into unrelated states and regions; places that had no previous terrorism links. The attacks in recent months in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Belgium have shown that nowhere is out of bounds and no one is safe.
Talk about terrorism in Ghana has generally been muted. Other than the general and widespread hue and cry about the government’s decision to accept two ex-Gitmo detainees with previous terrorism links into Ghana, the terrorism talk has almost been like the parent-adolescent sex talk: uncomfortable. It is like that problem or secret you do not want to talk about because you think it will eventually go away if you ignore it. There is also the genuine fear that there is the tendency to create an alarmist environment.
After the Garissa attacks, various reports emerged that the Kenyan government may have done more to prevent, forestall and deal with the attacks. British Intelligence had warned of the possibility of attacks in Garissa prior to the attacks and the lack of proper security personnel at a whole university was certainly cause for concern. In fact, after almost every terrorist attack, there is always a question of what more governments and security agencies could have done to prevent or mitigate these violent acts. The Belgian government has been accused of underestimating the scale of extremism in Belgium after the recent attacks that killed about 30 people and injured many more while post 9/11, the United States government made sweeping changes to its intelligence program after it emerged that attacks were preventable, but the plot went undetected because of communication lapses between the F.B.I. and C.I.A., which failed to share intelligence related to two hijackers.
The lesson learned from all these is that it is better to be safe than to be sorry. The news that the Ghana Police Service has deployed anti-terror personnel to Kwahu, a popular destination for Easter holiday revelers, shows government’s desire to ensure security issues are not taken for granted especially when it comes after Ghana Security Chiefs issued a terror alert. Going forward more needs to be done to ensure that we are well-prepared to deal with any threats. Our intelligence network needs to be proactive, our security personnel need to be trained to handle any situations that may arise in relation to terror activities and there should be a plan for any eventualities. This is not pessimism; it is the reality of the world we live in.
In the mean time, however, let us all continue now and beyond this Easter period to spread the joy and love that this season represents. This will help to ensure that Ghana’s much-heralded peaceful nature is maintained. This week, hundreds of family members and friends will remember and mourn the lives that were lost to the Garissa attacks this time last year. As you go about your activities this week, do say a short prayer for these families and everyone who has ever been affected by terrorism. To be honest, we all need it. Ferdinand Senam Hassan
Author: Ferdinand Senam Hassan, threesixtyGh Writer