German scholarships for 300 Garissa massacre survivors

Just months after a terror attack killed 148 people at Garissa University College in northeast Kenya, 300 of its surviving students have been awarded scholarships to complete their studies by the German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD.

The students from poor and vulnerable backgrounds will complete their courses at Moi University, the parent institution of Garissa. DAAD is meeting their tuition fees in full plus living expenses – a first step in fully integrating them into mainstream studies.

The 300 beneficiaries were selected from among 650 students who survived a deadly attack on the college by members of the al-Shabaab Islamist group, which is based in neighbouring Somalia and has links with al-Qaeda. There were 148 killed and 79 students injured.

In a raid that shocked the world, four gun-toting militants entered the college in the early hours of 2 April, taking Christian students hostage and murdering many of them but reportedly allowing Muslim students to go free. The militants were shot dead by security forces after an all-day siege at the college.

The scholarships

“Beneficiaries of the sponsorship were selected based on their backgrounds, the ability to pay fees and their parents’ economic status,” said Professor Richard Mibey, vice-chancellor of Moi University.

They were chosen by a committee consisting of officials from the university, DAAD and the Commission for University Education, after meeting stringent selection criteria.

Vice-chancellor Mibey said that many of the scholarship students were the first in their families or villages to access higher education. Some were orphans brought up and educated by relatives and guardians, and were thus highly deserving of scholarships.

“We are here to ensure that your dreams are not killed by the tragic event that happened in your institution in April, and indeed that you now have the opportunity to pursue your dreams to the fullest,” Mibey told the relocating undergraduates during a ceremony to welcome them to Moi University’s main campus in the west of Kenya.

He disclosed that not all of the students would be absorbed into the university’s main campus, but all would be admitted to one of its campuses and constituent colleges to ensure that all 650 students secured a place.

The students will complete the few weeks that remained of the last semester at Garissa University College which were interrupted by the attack, before being absorbed into a Moi campus of their choice.

Terrorism must not triumph over education

In total more than KES18 million (US$180,000) will be dispersed in bursaries to the students during the first semester, with more to be committed until the students complete their courses, said Helmut Blumbach, DAAD regional director for Africa.

Each of the students will get KES50,000 (US$500) tuition fees and a KES10,000 (US$100) monthly stipend for living costs.

“Terrorism must never be allowed to stop young people pursuing their ambitions in life or even stop or alter the destiny of any nation,” Lars Wilke, head of development cooperation at the German Embassy in Nairobi, told the survivors.

Germany, Wilke said, had made the gesture to ensure that terrorism did not win over education or the lives of students, and as one way to support Kenya after the horror attack.

“Access to a solid education is a strong weapon against any form of terrorism,” Margret Wintermantel, president of DAAD, said in a message read on her behalf. “We want to strongly encourage students to hold on to their dreams for their future, despite the horrors they went through.”

The fate of Garissa College remains undecided, with the institution closed as the government and local leaders mull over what to do with it. Suggestions include re-opening the college under a new name, or turning it into a local farmers training facility or even a military installation.

Security beefed up

Meanwhile, following a directive from the ministries of education and of national security to avert a repeat of the Garissa tragedy, universities across the country have beefed up security.

At the University of Nairobi, gates and heavy metal barriers have been erected at all entrances and private security guards deployed to operate them.

Entry to campuses has been restricted to students, staff and members of the public who produce national identity cards, and cars are screened before entry.

“We are appealing to all students and staff to please observe and comply with new security measures to ensure the safety of all,” said a notice from Vice-chancellor Peter Mbithi.