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Teachers flee, schools close in Kenya with al-Shabab attacks

NAIROBI,— Every school day, Abdirizack Hussein Bashir rises at dawn for an eight-kilometer (five-mile) trek through a dangerous forest where he sometimes faces harassment by Kenyan army patrols hunting down extremists.

Now the 12-year-old’s dream to become a doctor is threatened. Attacks by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab against non-Muslims have forced the transfer of hundreds of teachers from the border area with Somalia, where the extremist group is based. Schools have closed and thousands of children are affected.

At least 224 primary schools and 42 secondary schools in Wajir County can no longer function after non-local teachers fled. The exodus was caused by the Feb. 16 al-Shabab attack on a primary school in which two non-Muslim teachers were killed.

Kenya’s Teachers Service Commission transferred 329 teachers elsewhere for their safety. Many others left on their own. In all, 917 non-Muslim primary school teachers have left the region.

It is the largest-ever mass exodus of teachers from the region, observers say.

Analysts say the extremist group threatens gains in education in a region that until recently was the most marginalized in Kenya and has been described as a hotbed for recruitment for extremist groups, which oppose Western education. Children out of school become easy targets.

For al-Shabab the closure of schools will be seen as “a success,” said Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, an expert in countering violent extremism.

“Schools and education is one of the antidotes against the narratives of the (extremist) group. Thus, if you close the school, how else can you build a counter-narrative?” he asked.

Al-Shabab has carried out a wave of attacks in Kenya since 2011, calling it retribution for Kenya sending troops to Somalia to fight the extremists.

Attacks include the April 2015 raid on Garissa University that left 147 people dead. Teachers near the Somali border have been targeted, including in a November 2014 attack on a bus in neighboring Mandera County.

Some 120 non-Muslim teachers have left their posts in Mandera County due to the latest insecurity. The teachers have been sleeping in the Kenya National Union of Teachers boardroom for nearly two months and spend their days camped out at the offices of their employer, the Teachers Service Commission.

Police routinely use tear gas on them as they protest and demand better protection from the extremist threat.

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