Mandera, Kenya: February 23, 2017: By Kevin Majoni
It is a two-hour early morning flight headed to the border County of Mandera in the North Eastern part of Kenya. A journey that was pre-planned one month ago was proving a thoughtful one, with a terror attack having just occurred 48 hours prior to our departure.
As we descend towards Mandera airport, the aerial view from the turbo propped aircraft window sends shivers down my spine. It is all dry land, scattered thickets and barely any sign of grass. The town looks desperate from above. The airport, my colleague mentions, is inside a military territory and therefore under military control. Upon disembarking from the aircraft, we first meet men in combat gear, giving directions towards the exit gate of the military camp cum airport departure gate. They do not allow anyone to waste a single second within their camp due to security protocols. Everybody waits for their luggage at a designated point outside the camp besides the road; with the military on the lookout and high alert.
Figure 1: An aerial view of Mandera Town (Photo by: Kevin Majoni)
We board our waiting vehicle and proceed towards the town to secure a place where we would call home for the next four days. We spend the first night within the premises, since we are not familiar with this new town. At 5 o’clock we stand at the balcony of our hotel rooms to get a view of how things happen in an area imposed with a nightfall curfew that starts at 6 p. m. Businesses are being closed hurriedly and soon, it is a ghost town. The only visible movement is that of police officers and the Kenya Police Reservists, famously known as KPRs, who are now doing patrols to ensure residents are adhering to the curfew. They are heavily armed and ready for any encounter with enemies. They walk in pairs, pacifying the whole town.
My mind is taken back to the news of the terrorist attack that had occurred two days ago in the very same town that was now hosting us. Questions rummage through my mind and I get lost in thought. Who is my hotel next-door neighbor? What if he is an Al Shabaab informant or a disgruntled element? What if he is one? How does an Al Shabaab militant look like? Upon arrival at the hotel, we had enquired about security status at our hotel and were informed that it is guarded by three Kenya Police Reservists’ overnight. Just three? That was a terrifying bare minimum- I thought. My mind wondered and I prayed for God’s protection and went to sleep. Through the night, my body lay in bed but my mind was on the alert. Any slight movement made my heart skip a beat.
Our visit to the region was to hold discussions with civil society partners while at the same time document the effects of terrorism and counter terrorism efforts. For the next three days we conducted our meetings and interviews within the hotel premises and only managed one afternoon to drive to the border and hurried back before curfew. A waiter and waitress at our hotel shared with us that in this area you only live today and hope to see tomorrow.
Figure 2: KNCHR Officials sandwiched between Kenya Police Reserves (KPR) at River Dawa-Kenya, Ethiopia border. (Photo by: Kevin Majoni)
From my three-day experience, I came to my own conclusion; that security is based on trust and accountability. No one will share crucial information with you if they do not trust you. Everyone should be accountable for every action that he/she takes..