BEHIND THE MANDERA ATTACKS
Like other young people across the world, Kenyan youths leave their slow and small villages or fast and overcrowded towns to search for work in other parts of the country. And they literally go everywhere — to the most remote township of Lamu, to wheat farms in Narok and, even, to the furthest county of Mandera. They teach, trade and do any other job that will earn them a living. They are, after all, in their country. They don’t need a passport to get there and are entitled to protection and freedom as provided by the Constitution.
Last week, however, 12 of these youths were killed as they slept. Their hotel was blown up by improvised explosive devices and riddled with bullets.
But there are some things that don’t add up about this Mandera story. In the news, we are told the local security agencies had been tipped off about the impending attack. They did nothing to forestall it. Their response came after the attack. And another thing: The top county leadership had just left the town and only held press conferences after the damage was done — to say how horrified and saddened they were upon hearing the news.
We are talking of Mandera, a county with a tumultuous history of attacks, not an idyllic hamlet somewhere in a peaceful corner of the earth. This is Mandera, where on October 6, six people were killed in yet another attack. A few months ago, six other people were shot and killed in a bus ambush. In 2015, 28 people died in similar circumstances. So why is the county leadership shocked and helpless? Why was there no immediate security response?
Three significant questions come to mind. Are Mandera attacks being disguised as acts of terrorism? If yes, why, and even more importantly, who benefits?
The first question is the easiest to answer. There is an elephant in the room that was actively ignored in the press conferences after the attacks. The fact that ‘non-natives’ are being expelled from Mandera could point to a revival of secessionist intentions. And that, in my view, is the scheme that is being disguised as acts of terror.
This convenient concealment takes advantage of the country’s growing immunity to terror-related shock. We have grown so immune that even a young man from Western Kenya, who had himself lived in Mandera for seven months, was not scared away by the October 6 attack. He had assured his mother, who was begging him to return home, that he was safe. Unfortunately, he wasn’t. He was last week killed in the attack as he slept in his room at Bishaaro Hotel and Lodge. All manner of bizzare attacks can happen and it is chalked up to Islamic extremism. But what happens, in the meantime, is a deliberate expulsion of other Kenyans from the northern frontier. This terrorism approach of expelling non-locals has replaced the outright pre-and post-Independence secessionist calls in the region. More recently, in 2013, there was a reemergence, when a band of militia marauded its way around Mandera extracting people from their homes and killing them. They blatantly called for secession — their intention was for a sovereign Mandera, complete with a flag, map and a national anthem.
Onto the more difficult question: Who benefits from this scheme? The answer could lie in the present leadership structure — from the county administration to the council of elders. An independent Mandera will bring forth a new sovereign region. A King of the North will have further imperialistic intentions to annex Moyale, Isiolo, Wajir, and who knows where else.
The last thing we need, in this already ethnically fragmented country, is the formation of sultanates. To those habouring these fantasies, your dreams are not valid.
WE ARE TALKING OF MANDERA, A COUNTY WITH A TUMULTUOUS HISTORY OF ATTACKS