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Road trip to Mandera not for faint-hearted

By Mohamed Guleid

Anyone who has travelled along the Isiolo-Mandera road has a story to tell. The preparation normally starts days ahead of the planned trip.

If one is using private means, then the vehicle has to be a four-wheel drive strong enough to survive to the end of the journey. The suspension coils of the vehicle must be suited for a rough road that stretches 740kms.

A normal journey takes at least two to three days. But you are expected to load the vehicle with essential food rations if you have family members in Mandera or along the way because for some, this is an opportunity to get fresh vegetables at an affordable price.

Prices in Mandera can sometimes be twice what something costs in Nairobi.

Let me say it can also be exciting if you still have the adrenalin rush in you because the trip can get aborted anytime depending on whether it has rained or if the security situation suddenly gets worse.

In the preparation phase, you also stock enough fuel to last you to the next place where you can find a decent gas station.

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Anyway, the adventure starts as soon as you leave Isiolo town. A few kilometres outside the town heading northwards, you approach the first police roadblock where hawk-eyed officers demand the identification documents of the vehicle occupants and finally ‘something small’.

The officers you meet after Isiolo town are quite friendly and anything you give is voluntary.

But as you approach Mandera, this friendly attitude becomes scarce and your out-of-pocket costs go up.

But if you are to start filling your ledger book to account for the total cost, start from filling your tank and repair your car in preparation for the long journey.

The next item on your ledger should be the police taxes along the way. Your next probable stop will be Kulamawe.

Yes, as the name suggests, there is nothing to really eat and the people jokingly say you eat stones due to the rocky nature of the town.

But nowadays, a few small eateries have opened so one can get some food. After 14 hours, you arrive in Wajir town tired, exhausted and ready to rest.

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Your ledger gets more entries in terms of boarding and lodging.

The following morning one is expected to report to the police station in Wajir to get advice from the officer commanding the station on whether it is safe to proceed with the journey.

It is from Wajir town that the danger of meeting Al-Shabaab becomes real.

Once given the nod to travel, it becomes necessary to establish if any of the occupants of the vehicle would be considered a ‘foreigner’.

This category of people does not refer to only white people as even other non-local Kenyans are referred to as foreigners. It might just be semantics, but according to the Al Shabaab, it could mean life or death.

The police will often advise on taking armed escort. Ideally, you are entering a battle zone. Assuming you are lucky to make it and the adrenaline-charged youth might certainly enjoy the uncertainty and fear, you arrive a day or two later in Mandera exhausted, having spent a colossal amount of money.

But the time you arrive in Mandera, the vehicle is likely to have broken some essential parts that might not be found in Mandera and have to be airlifted from Nairobi.

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Uhuru’s gift

A few more days of stay and repair of the vehicle might cost you more. And when you start planning for a return via the same route, you multiply your cost by almost a similar amount as the outbound travel experience.

The people who live in Mandera or any of the towns along that route experience the torturous journey described above.

A few affluent people might fly using local scheduled flights but still, a return air ticket to Mandera is the same cost as flying to Dubai.

That is what residents of the North Eastern parts of Kenya go through.

However, all this might change if the planned construction of the Isiolo to Mandera road is completed.

My appeal to President Uhuru Kenyatta is to give the people of this region this gift before he leaves office next year.

This would be a legacy for him and would give these marginalised people a new lease of life.

Mr Guleid is CEO, Frontier Counties Development Council.

About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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