The insecure Nairobi has lessons to learn from the safest town in East and Central Africa — Garissa. It has been described by the International Police as the safest town in the region, yet Garissa, the headquarters of North Eastern Province, is famous as Kenya’s trouble spot. Located 380 kilometres north-east of Nairobi, the town is the gateway to the expansive province.
The longest river in Kenya; River Tana offers great relief from the scorching heat and gives a welcoming feel, a prelude to the peace that any visitor is assured of across the bridge. Bitterly under decades of sectarian fights and the hallucination of secessionist struggles right from the colonial days, the province and its headquarters has undergone an incredible metamorphosis.
Anyone preparing to travel to Kenya’s Northeastern Province (NEP) ordinarily include security precautions in their itinerary. In fact, during years following the sessionist Shifta war of the 1960s NEP became the acronym for “Nothing except Problems.”
Taking the road to Garissa from Nairobi, the vegetation thins out after Mwingi, and replaced by shrubs before sand stretches out. Charcoal sacks dot the way, as do caravans of camels and goats that feed on the thorny shrubs and bushes.
After the end of the Shifta war in 1967 the violence in Kenya deteriorated into disorganised banditry, with occasional episodes of secessionist agitation, for the next several decades,” says Ibrahim Abdi, who chairs the provincial peace security committee.
Despite all these problems the region is now peaceful, thanks to what is referred to as the “Saleh Strategy,” after the former Provincial Commissioner Mohammoud Saleh, who is credited with stamping the embers of the Shifta War that simmered between 1963 to 2003
He also formed a strong security committee consisting of clan leaders and elders led by Ibrahim Abdi from the influential Auliyahan Ogaden clan.
Being a local, Saleh knew the dynamics and causes of insecurity in the region. He worked closely with clan and religious elders who could not mislead him since he understood our language and culture,” Ibrahim adds.
Today, there is no region in Kenya that boasts more peace and tranquility as northeastern Kenya. One can walk into a bank and withdraw Sh1 million and carry it in a paperbag across Garissa town without being attacked,”
Wajir East Member of Parliament and Minister for Northern Kenya Development Mohammed Elmi. Said the Shifta war and violent clampdowns by the Kenyan government disrupted the people’s way of life in the province, resulting in a slight shift from pastoralist and transient lifestyles to sedentary, urban lifestyles.
If other regions could replicate what we have been able to accomplish in NEP in the rest of the country, we would not be talking about insecurity today,” Elmi said.
Kenyans in other provinces are yet to come to grips with this inspirational reality, even as high profile delegations from neighbouring countries have been to this region to share the experience. The latest such team to be hosted early this year by the Garissa Peace and Development Committee (GPDC) was a delegation from Uganda.
“This is the most peaceful province in the whole country. The biggest problem is perception, particularly when you mention the word north — North Eastern Province, North Rift,” says James ole Seriani, the provincial commissioner. “North Eastern is a victim of geographical confusion. At times people call me to find out how we are doing when banditry cases are reported in places like Isiolo and Marsabit. These places are in Eastern Province,” says the administrator, adding that there has not been any single cattle rustling incident recorded in the province in the past 20 years.
This contrasts sharply with other regions choking under the weight of insecurity fuelled by small and light weapons in the hands of civilians. In North Rift, for instance, a more deadly form of cattle-rustling in which raids are well planned and executed with military precision characterised by modern weapons, has raised concern. This has resulted in the current exercise to mop up illegal arms.
Despite the porous border with lawless Somalia and the close to 300,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab, the region rarely records highway robberies. Talking of infrastructure, there are no roads. Dusty, sandy and badly damaged donkey paths, stretching for miles on the flat lands, are what passes for roads in the entire province. The only true road is a 10-kilometre stretch from Garissa to Modika Centre that is the junction of the roads to Wajir and Dadaab.
The Kenyan government should therefore take the initiative of developing and constructing the dilapidated infrastructure in North Eastern Province to make it at bar with other Provinces in Kenya, since this is the most vexing problems in the history of the province: impassable Roads.