By Muawiya Muhumed Burale
For years and years, the people of Northeastern Kenya have been deeply plunged in varieties of adversities including perennial famine and drought, poor road network, malnutrition and other problems that continue to bite hard to this present day without any remedial measures by the succession of administrations. For over fifty-years, the inhabitants of this vast and expansive terrain, waited in vain from their elected leaders and the powerful central government in Nairobi for sophisticated and highly developed infrastructure.
Since the country gained independence from the Britain in 1963, this area has been lacking a well structured transport system. Traveling a few kilometers will take hours and hours; there is absolutely no tarmac road from Garissa to Mandera and passengers spend a lot of hours to reach their projected destinations.
Surprisingly, after every five years, voters from the Northeastern region send scores of leaders to parliament to represent their wishes. However, only a few elected individuals emerge and raise the plights of their people in parliament though their political struggles achieve nothing especially when it comes to acquiring the required resources and funding for well-linked roads to replace the dilapidated and ramshackle roadways.
The region is synonymous with unreliable rainfall and drought which mostly contribute to the safety of the travelers. In contrast, the rainy season makes roads haphazardly impassable and accidents become common due to the slippery mud piling up on the roads. In turn, buses overturn or get stuck on for days, if not weeks, while passengers could sustain injuries and remain susceptible to marauding wild carnivorous animals.
Being a journalist who was raised in the region and hails from a nomadic family, I’ve met so many challenges on these unforgiving roads. In the late 1990s, I accompanied my aunt Amina who visited us after a prolonged drought and tribal clashes struck the area. Aunt Amina and I traveled to Sankuri, 23 miles north in the suburbs of Garissa District. We boarded an old Land Rover vehicle which used to ferry passengers those days. I can remember it was my first day in my life to board a vehicle; I felt total anxiety, fearful and suddenly a jolt of pain ran through my spine. The road was pathetic and the vehicle sometimes swerved from side to side to avoid falling into small pot holes.
Aunt Amina passed away fourteen years ago; her death reminds me a lot about the encounters I inherited from that venture. Apparently, till this day, the underdevelopment in the region is still lingering in the minds of her colleagues who were in a state of despair because they were unable to access the markets for their livestock output in that joint venture that went awry.
In a similar journey, the Garissa-Mandera road is characterized by gullies and pot holes, thus making it tiresome to travel; those who traveled vowed never to use again that strenuous road.
Passengers spent two days to reach Mandera from Nairobi and one day to Wajir. The road is bumpy and dusty, sending huge fumes to the sky. In turn, it led drivers not to see the front, hence obscuring their visions and at times culminating in unanticipated head-on collisions.
The cost of air travel was very expensive by then and most residents could not afford such luxury except for the tycoons and the politicians.
The road from Gariss to Mandera is believed to be one of the worst in the entire country. Despite this poor road network, drivers are busy ferrying passengers by the day. For the drivers to keep up with time, they have to drive in haste to cover long distances within short periods. That is how they become victims of police dragnets and allegations of over speeding.
Most of the regions that are at the border points in Kenya have tarmac roads except the Northeastern which had struggled to overcome poor infrastructure since colonial days.
After the devolution emerged and power was distributed to all counties, for unknown reasons, Garissa-Mandera road remains without tarmac. However, other county governments have tried their best to construct tarmac roads in their respective areas, leaving the Northeastern region in the lurch.
Most of the residents in Northeastern Kenya are pastoralists who roam in the harsh terrains to seek for pasture and water, and their main aspirations is to acquire improved roads to transport their animals to the market–their key stake or issue in life.
In every political campaign, leaders promised to construct the main roads way that linked the hinterland but only a few kilometers were transformed in to bituminous roads.
All past successive governments have not shown any interest in road investment in this marginalized region and their repetitive pledges to uphold the road tarmac initiative have become futile promises.
Road carnage has been the worst fever for the people of my region.
The government of Kenya has been accused of corruption by Transparency International (TI) and embezzlement of public funds remains rife. According to TI, Kenya is number 145 out of 176 countries in corruption ranking and scored 26 out of 100. While senior government figures have misappropriated the nation’s resources without remorse, some have been prosecuted and others are nowhere to be seen. President Uhuru Kenyatta is struggling to wipe out corruption, however, the footsteps of this immoral act is widely noticeable in major sectors in Kenya.
In a nutshell, the people of Northeastern were not much aware of those fraudulent activities. Instead, they have been constantly dreaming day and night to see tarmac roads flourish in their forsaken, desert-whipped region. If the tarmac venture has disappeared in to thin air, how about macadamized roads?
Muawiya Muhumed Burale
Muawiye is a Freelance Journalist based in Northern Kenya
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