His Name Was Ababmo

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He looks normal.
Happy, even.
He looks nice in a suit.
He looks…like a typical Kenyan.
Like someone I could have gone to school with too.
Like someone who likes Avengers and laughs at socialites and takes matatus.
He doesn’t look like a killer.

But what does a killer look like?
They told me
A killer looks scary. A killer looks dangerous. A killer looks like a killer.
I don’t know. But…
I’m looking at his picture now.
He’s looking at something and smiling
I’m looking at the smile of a killer.
A killer looks just like me.

-Abigail Arunga


It was a bloody Thursday last week, and our social media sites were sprayed with pictures of people lying in blood, dead.  Al Shabaab had descended again, and this time, they went (as Generation Y likes to call it) HAM- hard as a motherfucker.  In their wake 147 slain bodies lay lifeless.

It was not until Friday that I remembered something. I had heard about Garissa University before the Thursday bloodbath, but there was something about this attack that gnawed at my spine. I could not sit still. And in as much as 147 people were dead, I was certain that was not what unsettled me. I began to think about death a lot, wondering when my time would come. If I, just like these guys, would meet my end at the nozzle of a rifle.

I pictured myself in this scenario. Would I beg him to let me live? Would I pretend to be Muslim? Would I fight? Yeah, I would probably fight that son of a bitch, I thought; if we die, we die together. We shall draw blood and see who between a goon and a terrorist has more  to spare.

Then it came to me. I was on my way to Lele Live! when I realized why I was being so pensive about Garissa University.

Late last year, Mother Karua had intimated to us that she wanted to transfer from her current job place. She works as an administrative assistant at one of the universities in the city.

“I want to move to Garissa University,” she had told me.


“They have better pay,”

All my other siblings became furious. I told her, “If more money will make you happy, then go ahead, but we are not moving with you to Garissa.”

She never went.

For close to six years we have been separated; us studying in Nairobi, and her working in Maseno. And now that we were finally around each other for barely a year, we knew she would not go anywhere past Nairobi.

Kumbe the reason I was worried was because I feared that if my mother had accepted the invitation to go work at Garissa University, she might have been among the 147 dead people. That fear shook me to the core. I called her immediately.

“Jaber, so now I see you have a death wish, aye?”

“Everyone has been calling me about it.”

“Listen, if you want to die, just call me. I would rather kill you myself.”

She laughed.

“Even if they called me to go today, I will still go. Me I am not scared.”

Of course she was just kidding. If there is someone who is scared shitless of death, it has to be my mom, never mind that funerals have become her new pastime (she is always attending a burial every weekend). She is worried because, even to date, she cannot fathom any of her children being alone, fending for themselves.

Because of that fear that had consumed me, the fear that my mother could have been one of the casualties of a jihadist attack, I celebrated the death of the terrorists. Until the photos of their bodies came out and as custom with Kenyans, they were gladly shared on Facebook.

“Serves them right,” I said.

Yassin Juma had said earlier that one of the terrorists was the son of Government chief as well as a lawyer. I never bothered to read that post. Didn’t bother with the details. In fact, I went ahead and posted a sick joke on my online spaces. The next time your kid says ‘when I grow up I want to be a lawyer’, please remember that one of the terrorists was a lawyer. A few salty comments later I deleted it.

What happened next was completely shocking.

Someone posted on a WhatsApp group “University of Nairobi, School of Law class of 2013 continues to shock Kenyans. First they gave us the socialite, Corazon Kwamboka, and now a terrorist.”

This photo followed. Turns out I know the reported terrorist. This chap right here in a fullsuit (white shirt).


His name was AbdiRahim, but in campus he was nicknamed Ababmo. I remember his face. We were not friends. We did not hang out or go raving together. But I know him. UoN School of Law is such a small campus that almost everyone knows everyone. Especially when you are Module I students, because that means that you sleep in the same halls of residence.

The survivors of the Garissa Attack who say that their assailants were not Somali, and that some of them spoke in fluent English and Swahili, must have been talking about Ababmo.

I remember Ababmo, albeit vaguely. I remember his curly hair. I remember his accent, thickly overlaid by Somali influence. I remember him hanging around his other muslim friends (Muslims in Parklands Campus always hang out together). I remember how his walalo perfume choked us in the corridors. But most especially, I remember his suits. This guy wore expensive suits. You could tell very easily that those suits were not the knock offs that Timothy Kyalo sold us. I mean designer suits, fetid with class and elegance. He always dressed to kill, wore them suits the way marathon winners wear a moment of glory. .

In my head, he came from money.

Other than the aura of wealth (which is very common in campuses) this bloke was pretty much just like every other Muslim I know. He was no more or less than the next guy. Nothing eccentric about him.

I guess what I am trying to say is that he did not look like a killer or even worse, a terrorist.

But then again, what do killers look like? What do terrorists look like?

The face of a terrorist is very familiar, my friend. Something that UoN School of Law has come to learn from Facebook.

See, when you hear that a bunch of batshit religious extremists raided a place and slaughtered people, your heart bleeds – from sadness for the lives lost, and from anger for those who killed them. You wish them nothing but an equally brutal death; may someone skin their bodies alive, may their skinned bodies be roasted over a raging fire, may stray dogs lick their blood and choke on it, may their souls never even get the chance to stand naked before the Creator for judgment.

But when you realize that the killer was someone you knew, he suddenly becomes a person and all that anger is replaced with empathy. I guess that is why politicians terrorize us daily but we still let them live.

When Ababmo’s photo came to my phone screen, I wondered why/what would have made him radicalize. I remember last year I wrote a story for Kwani? at the Tafaria Workshop about a Somali campus student who was radicalized into terrorism. But you see, that is a fictional character; a figment of my imagination. I made him up. But Ababmo was real, and this coincidence is too fantastic to wrap my head around.

I mourn Ababmo today.

People have been asking me “What would make a lawyer become a terrorist?” I think that reasoning is misguided because Ababmo’s profession has nothing to do with it. If he was a chef, or an accountant, or even the president (George Bush), it would still be a tragedy.

You see the mothers of a victim crying, and her pain stabs you. But you do not think of the mother of the killer, perhaps because she was not pictured in the newspapers. But she too lost her son when that trigger was pulled. She too witnessed her child’s blood splattered on Facebook and read about him on the Daily Nation front page.

Nobody carried a child in her womb for nine months, cared and loved him for years, only to be murdered; just the same way nobody sired a child to become a murderer.

Lakini who will cry with the second mother? Who look at Ababmo’s picture on Twitter and instead of passing a self righteous judgment, will ask him:

“Where did you get the gun from? Who taught you how to use it like that? Why the hate? Where did Al Shabaab take you? Did you also take part in Mpeketoni and Westgate? Why, oh why did you suffer through 8-4-4 if all you wanted to be was a terrorist? Eeeh, Abu? You do not need a degree for that, my friend. All you need for that is a gun in your hands, a point to prove and nothing at all to lose. I know, Abu, that Somalis have suffered under the dominion of Kenya – from the Wagalla Massacre to the Shifta Wars, to the extended occupation in Somalia, and to the Kasarani Concentration camp – but since when did violence ever solve anything? Who told you to go get yourself killed? What did he promise you? And if it is true what he said, that suicide will guarantee you breakfast with Allah and Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) himself, why couldn’t he do it himself? Or he who sent you does not prefer his girls holy and virgin?”

The answer is nobody. Nobody asked Ababmo this question. Not when he was alive, and not when he is now dead.

Even though I cannot bring myself to celebrate him, I grieve Ababmo today. No doubt it is because I feel some form of attachment that does not permit me to judge him any more than it is necessary. If I did not know him at all, probably I would not have cared.

Coincidentally, this attack happened during Easter Season, and on that Friday when the Son of Man was pinned to a plank of wood, the man on his right who was a sinner was redeemed. [Luke 23:32-43]

On Twitter, @Maskani254 is running a campaign on the people who died in Garissa. The hashtag is #147notjustanumber #TheyHaveNames . Basically, they are dignifying the dead by identifying them by their names, rather than a mere number.

Well, hata mimi I kinda know a guy who died in the Garissa Attack. He was a Kenyan Somali; a member of the Degodia Clan that was viciously attacked by the Kenyan military 31 years ago, and who have never received any justice since. He was 26 years old (I think) with a fine taste in suits. He attended University of Nairobi till 2013. And his name was Abdirahim Mohamed Abdullahi.

But you can simply call him Ababmo.


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  1. For this reality check, for this mirror brought to our Kenyan faces, for reminding us that Ababmo is also us, is also Kenya, is also what happens when a vision for life is made smaller than the dreams that burn in our souls–so hot that some outsider offering an illusion of paradise can purchase, perhaps because those we have trusted to hold a vision of a greater Kenya have proved incapable of doing so–because you have dared to force us to look beyond that word ‘terrorist’, thank you. Kenya thanks you.

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  3. Nice read,I voted for you in the bake awards but I am not sure you are ready to dethrone Bikozulu just yet,please refrain from using derogatory words in your writing (walalo) it shows your immaturity in both your writing and age.If you want to be taken seriously asa wwriter then you need to polish your language a bit more.

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  5. This tells the other side of the story…Although we are all mad at the senseless killing..mad at the killers themselves…Things sink in harder if you actually know a victim or the attacker…The terrorist is slowly evolving to take any face or profession. Even the guy you were chilling in school with who is not even muslim can be one!!!. Which is very scary..We need to protect our minds as young Kenyans…Radicalists are after us (in both recruitment and wiping out ) the foundation of our country….ISIS is also recruiting young brilliant minds…watu wamesoma!!! What is this void they are filling in us Magunga?

    Mourning Ababmo is mourning our own generation X, Y or Z that’s falling into the trap of radicalization.

    ION: The use of “walalo” in this context is very much welcome. I mean isn’t this a word that your readers understand and connect with? Just my own opinion.

    Na yenyewe why suffer through 8.4.4 doesn’t make sense to me either.

    Am done

  6. He was my classmate and friend for four years. I was driving a borrowed junk when a pal called and told me to check my WhatsApp…and there he was! Too shocked to drive, I stopped by the roadside for almost an hour. I’ve asked myself those questions for almost a week now, and all I get is a very sick feeling. We all think the terrorist is some loser until the papers splash a very familiar face! I wish I could ask him why repeatedly, but well, he’s dead now and the most pronounced memory he’s left us with is blood-thirsty and monstrous villainy! I guess we’ll never know

  7. my heart goes out to the innocent students who lost their lives for a reason unknown to them.pole is not enough,i lack a word to say to the bereaved families

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