Mandera county is probably among the harshest place to live in Kenya because of the unforgiving terrain and weather conditions. This coupled with the decades long government marginalisation made many people here on the brink of despair.
Critical sectors like education and health were neglected by successive post-independence governments. However, the advent of devolution has brought with it many good tidings.
There’s a mushrooming of colleges which seek to bridge the gap in tertiary level education in the region.
One of them is Maarifa College, located at the heart of the terror-prone county, which is seeking to empower the region’s youth through education.
The college opened doors in 2011 with 1,063 students but the enrollment has risen over the last four years to more than 2,194 students currently.
The institution offers 12 courses including computer systems and application, English language, human resource management, nutrition and dietetics, business management and Arabic language.
Others are Islamic religious education, business management, secretarial studies, logistics and supplies management and project management and planning.
“We want to empower our people. The community remains neglected but saying so is not enough. It takes action like what Maarifa is doing to offer education to our young people on several areas so that they can later transform this community,” says the college’s director Abdisalan Adan Mohamed.
Literacy levels in the area stands at less than 10 per cent.
Mohamed hopes the skills the students get will enable them turn around the fortunes of the community that largely relies on livestock rearing to earn a living.
He cites hot temperatures, lack of enough teachers, language barrier among alien tutors and insecurity as the biggest challenges facing education development in the county.
However, he says investing in the education of the youth is critical in dealing with issues of radicalisation.
“If we empower the youth with basic skills and training, we will have invested in their future and by a large extent contributed positively in the fight against terror,” the Mohamed says.
The Mandera Triangle, which has a complex network of administrative and clan-related disputes and more recently, terrorist activity from militant group al-Shabaab, has failed to attract technocrats including teachers from other regions, he says. “Because of this the county has consistently been under curfews making it impossible for students who fear the worst in attacks to attend school. This is one of our greatest challenges,” said Mohamed.
He added that security is critical in changing the fortunes of the region.
“The communities in Mandera are entrepreneurial in nature, what they require is adequate knowledge on how they can turn around farming into agribusiness to eke a living,” said Mohamed.
The rise in terror attacks in the area has led to a mass exodus of people Mandera needs if it is to have any hope of sustainable development, he says.
“Even healthcare workers and humanitarian agencies have been forced to reconsider having a physical presence here, impacting negatively on the locals. It is high time our people woke up to the reality that education is power,” he said.
Mohamed is among the few professionals from Mandera who have defied odds to invest in his home county.
“Others have invested in Lavington, Kileleshwa and Karen in Nairobi but I have decided to share the little I have with the Locals,” says Mohamed.
He challenges the county government to absorb graduates from the college instead of going for outsiders as a way of building confidence of the community in education.
“They should realise that our courses are examined by KNEC and other recognised examining bodies. Our graduates are just like any other,” he says.
Mohamed is urging the local MPs — through the constituency development fund — to partner with them in the fight against illiteracy.