alexa Garissa thrives despite insecurity fears - Daily Nation

Garissa thrives despite insecurity fears

Tuesday January 1 2013

By JOHN NGIRACHU [email protected]

Everybody you speak to in Garissa knows Mohamud Ali Saleh.

Mr Saleh was posted to Garissa as the Provincial Police Commissioner in 2001.

The town was still stuck in the Shifta war years (between 1960s and 1980s) when the government concentrated more on suppressing secessionist ideas and the subsequent tendrils.

Security was shambolic and vehicles travelling to Garissa required police escort to fight away bandits who would frequently attack and rob travellers on the stretch between Ukasi, 130km away on the road towards Thika.

Mr Saleh’s approach to ending this wave of fear involved making everybody responsible for security.

Clans living on stretches prone to banditry were tasked with identifying and warning the criminals.


Mr Saleh, who is Kenya’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is credited with using the Somalis’ elaborate clan system to gradually implement a model of community policing that has worked to date.

Vehicles no longer need police escort, often even as they travel through the gateway to North Eastern Province up to Wajir and farther north to Mandera.

“All the money that used to go to security was channelled towards development,” says Idriss Ali, a trader at Soq Mugdi (which means Black Market because of the black sacking used as shades).

Mr George Ali, the local police boss, told us there is no petty crime in Garissa.

In 2010, Interpol rated the town the safest in East and Central Africa, which is evidenced by the fact that it is a thriving commercial centre. Garissa never suffers water shortages, as the Garissa Water and Sewerage Company draws its water from River Tana.

Farmers too are carrying out irrigation to great effect.

With its status as a gateway to North Eastern Province, Garissa has experienced a spur of growth, and investors have obviously put plenty of money into the town.

Almond Resort and Nomad Palace Hotel are among the best hotels there.

For Abdullahi Salat, who chairs the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims in Garissa, the increased insecurity is a natural consequence of the incursion into Somalia.

“We were totally against the forces going into Somalia. When you’re in a war, and you have invaded a country, you must prepare for the consequences,” he said.

Mr Salat was among a group of leaders from North Eastern Province who met President Kibaki at Harambee House in a bid to have him stop Operation Linda Nchi, saying Garissa would bear the brunt of Al-Shabaab’s retaliation.

The President is reported to have explained that the incursion mattered a lot to Kenya and Africa as a whole.

According to Mr Salat, the group asked for increased security along the 682-kilometre border with Somalia to prevent Al-Shabaab militants from entering Kenya.

Mr Salat says the high youth unemployment rates are also a contributor to insecurity. Despite this, he accuses law enforcement agencies of laxity.

He argues that Al-Shabaab’s attacks in Garissa are designed to destroy the relationship between the public and the authorities.

Their first targets were members of the local community, and they killed four sheikhs. When that didn’t seem to work, they attacked the two churches in June. But the Muslims offered to protect the Christians.

The Al-Shabaab then turned the heat on the law enforcement officers: APs were shot dead and two CID officers gunned down in the town.

When three KDF soldiers changing a flat tyre on a truck on Kismayu Road were killed, the reaction proved that Al-Shabaab had succeeded in touching a red raw nerve.

Few were spared in the operation immediately following the killings as the police and KDF from the base at the town searched for the culprits.

Two days later, the Soq Mugdi market was reduced to ashes and the top floor of a hotel next to it burnt away. Mauwa Millers about 50 metres away was reduced to a shell — the owners say they lost Sh323 million.

Mr Salat says property worth Sh250 million was destroyed. The more than 3,000 traders who had squeezed into 1,200 stalls were within a few hours reduced to ashes.

The market has since been re-built.