Agony of non-locals stranded in Mandera

Overloaded PSV plying the Wajir-Garissa road in North Eastern, Kenya. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Insecurity in Mandera County made travel by road for non-locals a tall order, leading the government to ban it altogether.

As a result, most of the non-locals living in Mandera have not travelled home for over a year.

Travelling by air cost, which cost Sh10,000 until recently has now gone up to Sh25,000, meaning even fewer people can afford it.

The non-locals now want the government to intervene to enable them travel home to see their loved ones.

Through their association dubbed ‘the seventh community in Mandera’ the residents who work in Mandera but hail from other far-flung areas threatened to take to the streets should the government fail to consider their pleas.

David Karimi, the chairman of the association, called on the government to open up all the routes leading out of Mandera County.

He said the routes were closed due to suspected Al Shabaab activities.

“We appeal to the county commissioner and the governor to open up all the roads and provide security for the non-local communities to safely travel in and out of the county as many of us have not seen our families for more than a year,” said Karimi.

He added: “None of us can afford to travel by air even though it is the only available means of transport that is safe at the moment because fares were raised from Sh10,000 to Sh25,000,” said Mr Karimi.

For fear of attacks from the insurgent group, the government banned non-natives from using public service vehicles without providing an alternative means of transport.

A mechanic in Mandera, Rose Ukwanyu, who has been a voter in Mandera for over 20 years said at employment non-residents are promised lucrative benefits that never come. Ukwanyu hails from the Western region 

Ukwanyu, who owns a garage in Mandera town, wants the Mandera-Moyale road re-opened and buses to have police escorts.

Alternatively, she said, airfare should be reduced to Sh10,000 as it was before to enable non-locals travel home.

“I appeal to the air agencies to reduce their prices because hiking them from Sh15,000 to Sh20,000 per person is punitive as most of us cannot afford it,” said Ukwanyu.

A section of non-locals stranded at Rhamo, 73km from Mandera town, last week after police decline to escort their bus. [Ibrahim Adan Ali, Standard]

Some of the non-local communities in Mandera are teachers who only travel to their homes during holidays.

They are now appealing to the government to move them safely to allow them to meet and spend time with their families

Jafan Kituyi, a teacher at Al Huda Primary School in Mandera East, said he has not travelled home for more than a year due to insecure roads and costly air tickets.

Kituyi appealed to the government to intervene on the hiked prices.

“We cry to President (William) Ruto and Prof Kithure Kindiki (Interior CS) that we are unable to travel in and out of the county because it is dangerous and costly. We want to attend to funerals back at home and most of us are hustlers and cannot afford air transport, said Mr Kituyi.

All roads that leave Mandera for other parts of the country have remained closed since 2014 following attacks that left 64 people dead, among them 28 teachers who were killed in a bus along the Mandera-Arabia road. Non-residents living in Mandera have suffered the impacts of terror attacks for over a decade since 2014 after 36 miners were killed at a quarry in Mandera East.

The closure of that road rerouted all buses and other public vehicles to Mandera-Rhamu-Elwak route which offers a meandering long distance and rough roads that cause breakdowns to most motor vehicles.

For non-locals to travel in and out of Mandera, one has to use the Mandera-Rhamo-Banisa-Takaba en route to Moyale and Nairobi.

It operated for close to two years before the militants again shifted their radar to that route with the intention of targeting non-locals and the escort police vehicles, leaving the route unsafe for travel.

The last incident was on June 20 when a police Landcruiser escorting a Moyale liner bus service was hit by a landmine between Banisa and Rhamo towns killing two officers and an engineer. The bus that was ferrying a good number of non-locals escaped by a whisker.

The buses on that route charge Sh5,000 to reach Nairobi and one needs Sh20,000 to be sure of getting back to Mandera. Travellers have to spend a night along the way to and from the county.

The journey takes more than a day - travellers need extra money for food and accommodation. Mandera County Commissioner Amos Mariba said the government has arranged with the chairman of the non-local communities to provide escort services to anyone who wishes to travel out of the county.

“Anyone travelling by the public service vehicles will be provided with enough police officers to escort them via government-recommended routes,” said Mariba.