When Mandera Governor Ali Roba was elected, he came face to face with realities of insecurity in his county when he was told that the swearing-in ceremony could not be conducted in public.
No public baraza had been conducted in this area between 2010 and 2013. But, ironically, the man who has survived three terror attacks stood firm that the event had to take place at Moi Stadium.
“Life and death are in the hands of God. When in a position of leadership, you are confronted with real challenges and I thank God for the gift of life,” says Roba, who has lost some members of his security detail in the attacks.
The success of the swearing-in became an eye opener for the governor, whose resilience came to test during his few months in office.
“In one of the unfortunate incidents after a night of gunshots, the area OCPD ran from his house to seek security at NDMA Guest House where I was staying. He lamented that his officers could not come out and that he had no security himself,” recalls the man who quit his luxurious job in aviation to venture into politics.
While on his way in a convoy of four vehicles from his residence, an IED exploded, injuring his security personnel who were then rushed to the nearby Mandera District Hospital where they were treated and discharged.
In 2015, there was another attempt on his life while on a convoy headed for a public meeting, when Al Shabaab militants fired an RPF on the vehicles between Nafey and Imo, leaving three people including two police officers dead.
This was after his office had been attacked twice by grenades that had been hurled into the compound.
Roba, known among his old friends as Captain, says the attempts on his life are as a result of his stand on terrorism activities.
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“Nobody dared challenge the terrorists. As a leader, I have a moral obligation to stand up to the challenges,” he says.
For the last two and a half years, the town has been free of any terror attacks save for some towns in the outskirts Elwak, Warankara and Alungo, in which militiamen have been using IEDs to attack.
Construction of a wall in parts of the county that covers a 10-kilometre stretch has enhanced security in the region.
However, the wall has seen trade between Kenya and Somalia slow down, given that the border post has not been reopened since it was shut down when militiamen from the neighbouring country raided in 2014.
The county government spends Sh380 million annually on Kenya Police Reservists who are paid between Sh10,000 to Sh15,000 monthly. It has also hired nine security patrol vehicles and increased presence of security officers in the town.
Roba says Mandera’s security situation needs to be managed since the probability of occurrence of a terror attack is at 100 per cent every single day.
Roba says the public has refused to be manipulated by militiamen to create a wedge between Muslims and Christians.
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“We are more secure today than we have ever been because of a willing national government. Our security teams have won public trust and this helps in receiving intelligence,” says the governor.
He survived an election petition challenging his August 2017 win after Hassan Noor Hasan, who was recently appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta to serve as a Cabinet Administrative Secretary, withdrew his application before the Court of Appeal.
The governor, who has been operating with members of his old Cabinet even after the Assembly passed a list of 10 nominees it rejected in November, got a sigh of relief when the officers were sworn into office on Wednesday.
The governor, whose father sold livestock to pay his school fees and that of his siblings says there is need to expand exportation of animals to the Middle East. The county exports close to 400 animals every year, with a camel fetching as much as Sh90,000.
Through strategic lobbying, Roba says the county has been able to attract investments worth Sh45 billion - slightly above the Sh32.9 billion the National Treasury allocated for the devolved government in the last four years.
Despite the odds, the county that had no tarmacked road today boasts of a 24-kilometre stretch and 300 kilometres of murram.
“We transport bitumen and machinery from Nairobi and this increases the cost of road construction as compared to other counties that are closer to the city,” he says.
Even though the county inherited only one medical officer, 154 health workers and 57 health facilities, out of which only three were operational, it now has four level three hospitals.
“Mandera continues to face a challenge in employing skilled workers because of the insecurity experienced in the town two and a half years ago,” says Roba.
Patients from the area enjoy the services of three specialised doctors (a local surgeon and two from Cuba) and 38 physicians.
Roba says his government embarked on recruitment of teachers under the Early Childhood Development Education programme when non-locals employed by the Teachers Service Commission fled the area.
Currently, the area has 520 teachers and is seeking to employ 300 more. Roba says 30 per cent of the vacancies will be given to non-locals.