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Mandera a great lesson on terror war in Kenya

By Kipkoech Tanui | February 6th 2015

NAIROBI: In Mandera, a court jails 20 quarry workers for refusing to leave their site over security fears. In Nairobi, the Government orders at least 2,000 teachers who have refused to report to work in Mandera for fear of insecurity to go back or face the sack. The teachers as would any other mrotal, said they would rather slip into joblessness than dance with death.

They have been protesting in the city for weeks outside the Teachers Service Commission offices, their tear-glands pricked by memories of their colleagues killed following a terror attack on a bus leaving the county at the end of term three.

At least 28 of them were killed. Later, there was an attack at a quarry again in the same county and non-Muslims were singled out and massacred.

The police, as part of intimidation tactics, followed the cue set by North Eastern leaders led by Majority Leader in Parliament Adan Duale, who demanded they report to Mandera or their jobs be advertised.

They called in Kenya Union of Teachers secretary general for questioning over the cover he has given the Mandera 'upcountry' teachers.

In the next two days, Mr Sossion who has maintained his stand that the security of the teachers would first have to be guaranteed and their other grievances addressed, would meet President Uhuru Kenyatta at the sidelines of a conference on education in Nairobi.

Earlier, Mr Kenyatta had pleaded with them to give him time to solve the unrelenting wage dispute.

Now two other things happen on this same Wednesday. First, the teachers move the MPs to tears with their grievances, fears and horror tales from the far-flung county.

It turns out they include sexual harassment, discrimination on religious grounds including a blockade on playing Christian songs, violation of basic rights such as receiving visitors, and exploitation through being asked to pay rent three times over what the locals pay.

Some pregnant teachers are kept too long at work and end up delivering in the hands of mid-wives.

Well, some of the allegations had come out in other forums but the North Eastern leaders have dismissed them as exaggerations.

But that the MPs and teachers cried under one roof bears testimony to the fact that their stories are chilling and persuasive. In other words, it is a matter of life and death, as is everything to do with life majorly for non-Muslims along the volatile Kenya-Somali border. It would predictably remain so, and will probably get scary as our soldiers remain in the trenches in Somalia.

Now the second thing that happened this Wednesday: TSC Secretary Gabriel Lengoiboni, said in a statement that no transfer would be issued to the teachers!

Now let us face the dilemma before us. It is in how we handle Mandera that we shall succeed or fail in the fight against terrorism and the emergence of Nigeria's Boko Haram-like caliphate on our soil. The teachers have not said they would not go if their security is guaranteed. Other than being told to go, no one has shown any effort to ensure their fears are addressed.

Secondly, no one would want a Mandera without the face of Kenya. In fact, as one family known as Kenya, we should be free to work and live anywhere in the country. It makes matters worse that the region because of years of economic alienation and marginalisation, does not have sufficient native teachers and other professionals.

As with any other region beset by similar circumstances, it has to "import" labour. To import labour, you have to make the offer attractive. But even more important, those coming from the rest of the country must be made to feel welcome. Now, I leave it to you to judge for yourself if the likes of Mr Duale have done this.

As one Somali friend confided in me, some of their leaders do in fact live in Nairobi and other major towns and are strangers to the life in the vast province. Their children go to schools in our big towns and abroad. The peasants are left to their own devices as are these professionals daring enough to work there.

But not all is lost as a senior military guy whispered to me: KDF is a reservoir of teachers. They are a lot of them lounging in the barracks, teaching a handful of ngumbaros a few hours a day. Surely, the Government can make them a bit busy by offloading them in strategic places in the terror hot-spots designated for learning. Alongside them will be the teachers still stuck in Nairobi.

But on a serious note, the President, TSC, Kenya Defence Forces, NEP Leaders, and unions should have a forum to deliberate on the issue of Mandera teachers. This is because if we fail in Mandera, or the teachers go and get killed, then we shall have opened the door for caliphates that would slowly mutate into fiefdoms with exclusive laws and ways of life.

The writer is the Group Managing Editor of the Standard newspaper

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