Africa Terrorism

Botched terror drill sparks fatal panic in Kenya university

One person died and over 30 people were hospitalized in a botched “terror drill” at Strathmore University in Kenya on Monday. Staff member Esther Kidemba, 33, suffered severe head injuries when hundreds of students ran for school exits believing a terrorist attack was underway. Several people were brought to hospital with limb injuries after students jumped from the upper floors of buildings.

Students were not notified by university authorities ahead of the drill intended to test the campus’s preparedness for a terror attack.

One eyewitness described seeing three men dressed the same, wearing black hoods and shawls inside the Business School (video below). “I thought it was a drill until I heard the gunshots,” he said.

Panic spread among staff and students who feared a repeat of the Garissa attack in April 2015 when some 148 people were massacred by the Al Qaeda offshoot, Al Shabaab in a bloody shooting.

One of the blank bullets used in the drill, photographed by Daniel Liekal.

Strathmore officials reportedly said that the university received terror threats.

“It was all a drill, but they should have taken precautions,” wrote one student, Daniel Liekal, on Instagram.

‘Cowardly’ communications

A statement released in the hours after the incident by the university’s Communications Director reportedly angered students and staff for not taking responsibility for the miscommunication.

A letter of apology sent to colleagues Tuesday morning by one senior staff member at Strathmore expressed anger at how the event was handled.

I am aware that many of you, may [of] us (I included), were annoyed by the press statement issued by the communications office. It mentioned an approved drill that had gone wrong because some students and staff panicked. This is absurd; whoever didn’t panic in such a situation is not normal.

It’s even more disturbing that no one seems to be saying sorry, at least not officially. The story in the newspaper says that the university management defended the drill.

I’m writing this email to all of my students and staff to say a big SORRY on behalf of anyone who may be coward enough not to face up to the mess he/she created.

Let’s keep together and continue doing the good work you all have been doing, and thank you for being such a fantastic school.

On Tuesday, that miscommunication by the university was acknowledged by vice-chancellor Professor John Odhiambo, who said that an investigation was underway. In a public statement emailed to later on Tuesday (below),  Odhiambo said that the university would pay “all medical expenses” of those injured in the botched drill and that counselling services would be provided for post-traumatic stress.

Initial reports that Kenyan police were involved in the drill were later rebutted by the Interior Ministry, who issued a statement dissuading institutions from undertaking such drills on their own.

Kenya’s Interior Ministry rebuked the university authorities for the mismanagement of the drill, saying that.

Eyewitness testimonies from the drill



Statement by Vice Chancellor Professor John Odhiambo

The following was emailed to by a member of staff:

“On behalf of the Strathmore University Management Board, I offer an unreserved apology to every student, parent, family, colleague and stakeholder for the unfortunate outcome of the security drill that was carried out in the university on 30th November 2015, at 12:00PM.

“We particularly offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Esther Kidambi, the member of staff we lost as a consequence of this security drill. We empathise with each and every student, parent, family, colleague and stakeholder who suffered injuries, trauma and inconveniences.

“Currently, 30 students and staff are receiving treatment in various hospitals within Nairobi. In Nairobi Hospital, 5 patients are admitted while 10 have been discharged. In Nairobi West Hospital, 16 patients were admitted; 1 in ICU; 1 In HDU and 14 in the wards. 4 patients have been admitted at Mater hospital, 1 patient at Karen Hospital, and 1 patient at Menelik Hospital.

“The University will cater for all the medical expenses and has engaged professional post-traumatic counselling services. We have also set up a help desk at the admission office to assist the affected students, staff and families.

“We urge all those who may require any further medical attention and counselling to get in touch with the Strathmore University Medical Centre. We are carrying out an immediate review of the unfortunate circumstances to harness key lessons, apply internally and share with all stakeholders.

“We appreciate the selflessness of our students and staff, paramedics and hospitals who assisted all those affected. We recognize the quick response, diligence and professionalism with which they handled and managed the situation. We are also thankful to all our stakeholders who are standing with us in solidarity, offering their help and support.”

About the author

Malachy Browne

Malachy was the founding Managing Editor and Europe Anchor of from 2015 until April 2016. Based in Ireland, he worked with the European team to report on international stories emerging through online communities and citizen networks. Malachy has reported on the Arab Spring, conflicts in Ivory Coast, Yemen, Syria and Ukraine, humanitarian crises from Somalia’s famine to Typhoon Haiyan, and social and civil rights movements. He has written about eyewitness media and citizen networks for Al Jazeera, Open Democracy and the European Journalism Centre.

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