The once vibrant Kenya/Somalia border point at Mandera town that has remained closed for several years could soon reopen, courtesy of improved security brought about by the ongoing construction of a border wall that has already covered close to 20 kilometres since work started in 2015.
To that end, a security team led by the Chairman of parliamentary committee on defense and foreign Affairs Mr Katoo Ole Metito and Defense Principal Secretary Torome Saitoti recently inspected the completed stretch of the fence accompanied by Senior army officials including the Deputy Chief of Kenya Defense Forces Lieutenant General Richard Kibochi.
The operation was marked by a rare heavy security that brought Mandera town to near standstill as the convoy that included a tank and armoured vehicles moved from the airstrip to the County headquarters and crawled through the town to River Dawa where the fence starts for a proposed coverage exceeding 50 kilometres.
Briefing the team on the prevailing security situation, Mandera Deputy County Governor Mr Mohamed Arai said no Al Shabaab attack had happened in the town for the last three years, an improvement he attributed to the fence.
“Mandera town used to suffer regular attacks and our Governor was a prime target, but all that is now in the past,” said Mr Arai who represented Governor Ali Roba during the inspection tour. He said Governor Roba was on official engagement outside the country.
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Mr Arai said reopening of the border point would regularize trade between the two countries that currently was heavy with sub-standard goods trafficked in by smugglers. “Goods of questionable standards being smuggled into Kenya from the port of Kismayu include sugar, rice, spaghetti, cooking oils and petroleum products,” said Mr Arai.
He said the County was losing an average of Ksh 2 billion monthly and the country much more due to the prolonged closure of the border.
Mr Metito said his committee would push for the reopening of the border as soon as possible but cautioned residents against complacency over their security. “Your security starts with you and the fence can only be effective if the people cooperate on security issues such as reporting suspicious characters to the authorities,” he stated.
He called on the two countries to speedily resolve the diplomatic glitch that temporarily halted construction at Bulahawa where Somali settlements spill into Kenya. “We want that diplomatic impact sorted out so that the gap left can be sealed to further bolster security,” said Mr Metito.
Maj. E.M Kasura for the army said a fibre optic cable would run along the fence and surveillance cameras installed to enhance security and prevent vandalism.
Residents called for the resumption of quarry activities that are a main source of employment in the County, now that security had improved.
A former Councillor Mr Suleiman Mohamud Isaak called for the withdrawal of Kenya defense Forces (KDF) from the interior of Somalia where Al Shabaab had been routed to be border lines of Mandera, Wajir, Garissa and lamu Counties to guard against infiltration in places yet to be reached by the security fence.
He said most Al Shabaab militants had moved to the Gedo region bordering Kenya after getting overwhelmed by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, that includes Kenya, hence the need of relocating KDF to be common border.
The security team toured the deserted Kenya Revenue Authority, Immigration and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KBS) and was staggered by the amount of neglect obtaining there. Nearly all offices and residential houses bear bullet holes in the walls, bespeaking a troubled past.