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February 23, 2019

Why these 'terrorist' attacks?

Garissa university college where al Shabaab killed more than 100 students./FILE
Garissa university college where al Shabaab killed more than 100 students./FILE

Last week I got a call in the middle of the night. One of my constituents was on the line and wanted to know whether I knew that her son was stuck in Mandera and unable to come home. For a minute I did not know what to tell her. I knew that there had been a terrorist attack in Mandera and four people had been killed [May 3 ]. I also knew that all four were from Nyeri county. From past experiences I also knew they were either from my constituency — Nyeri Town — or MP Kanini Kega’s constituency, Kieni. I was therefore worried that the woman on the line — who was clearly distraught — might be a be a parent of one of the dead.

But she confirmed that she had spoken with her son and he was fine. However he was stranded in a place called Elwak trying to come back to Nyeri. She was unable to help him and wanted her MP to figure out how to get him home. She then gave me her son’s number. (After the call I sat quietly for a few minutes internalising what I had signed up for).

I then called Nyeri Governor Kahiga and Kega. We agreed that we would do whatever was required to bring our people home. I also called Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet to find out the status of the issue. He told me the government had evacuated 64 quarry workers from Shibiri Fatuma in Mandera after the attack. They had been taken to Elwak then further inland to Takaba police station.

I informed him we were on standby as Nyeri leaders if they needed any assistance. We agreed he would keep us informed. The next day Deputy IG Edward Mbugua informed me that they would ensure each person got home safely. I spoke to the young man and told him they would get home.

The group got home on Monday this week. They came by my office to say thank you. As we shared a cup of tea together with this group of clearly relieved though dishevelled men, I learnt several things from them.

There are close to 300 people from Nyeri who work in quarries in Mandera after those in Nyeri got exhausted, and overcrowded. The quarry business in Mandera is an emerging industry and there is a lot of opportunity, especially for experienced quarry workers, which they are, because they have spent many years working in the Nyeri quarries. They also earn better there because the per capita pay is higher than in Nyeri (the per capita for a Kenyan in Mandera is close to 50,000 while in Nyeri it is between 13,000 and 17,000 — an issue we must revisit).

However some residents there are hostile to them. They derogatorily refer to them as ‘nywele ngumu’ (hard hair) based on the texture of their hair which is harder than the typical hair of the Somalis, who are indigenous to the region. The quarry workers believe this hostility is behind the fact that by some eerie coincidence the people who nearly always get killed or injured during what we call terrorist attacks in the area are Kenyans not indigenous to the area. Nyeri has buried tens of its people killed in strange attacks that seem to only select non-locals, in Northeastern. Ordinary crime cannot be that selective.

There is clearly a social integration problem in Mandera and the wider Northeastern region. However, this is also the area where we are concentrating a lot of our national development resources. Our colleagues in political leadership from Northeastern must tell us what is going on. Our people from Nyeri go to Northeastern because the region is developing rapidly due to national government investment. We need to know whether they are welcome there. Then we’ll take it from there.

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