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Kenya: Sorry State of Mandera-Garissa Road

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Despite its potential to propel the local and national economy, the Mandera -Wajir -Garissa road, which is categorised as national by the Roads ministry, has been neglected by successive governments since independence.

The class B9 road is the main transport artery running through northeastern region and connecting it to the rest of Kenya and horn of Africa through Somalia and Ethiopia.

The 765km road is the gateway to the rich pastoralist hinterland which, as per government records, produces over 65 per cent of livestock products in the country.

The road links Kenya with Somalia and Ethiopia at Bulla Hawa and Suftu border points respectively near Mandera town, a linkage extending to Eritrea and Djibouti, the two other countries falling within the horn of Africa axis which give it a regional status.

But despite its regional importance, the road has for many years remained neglected by previous governments. Many of those who travel by road for the first time to Mandera always swear never to come again unless by air.

Out of the more than 16,000km of road network in North Eastern region, only 20km are paved, according to records at the Kenya National Highways Authority.

The poor road infrastructure in the region has remained major impediments to the marketing of agricultural livestock products.Most sections of the Garissa-Mandera road are characterised by potholes, gullies and detours which has been the case for decades.

Speaking to the Star, an official with the Kenya Rural Roads Authority cited the massive resources required as the main reason it has taken the government long to upgrade the key road to bituminous standards.

"Tarmacking the almost 800km stretch would require about Sh8 billion considering doing a kilometre costs about Sh10 million," Kerra deputy regional manager for Mandera county Mohamed Hassan explained.

A spot check by the Star revealed that although the government tries to maintain the road regularly, extensive damage is done by heavy trucks which transport relief supply and other cargo to the former North Eastern province and the neighbouring Somalia.

The poor state of the road subjects the residents to high cost of travelling besides taking very long hours in reaching the far-flung destinations. The distance to Mandera and Wajir from Nairobi is 1,400 and 610km respectively.

On bus fare, the passengers from Mandera to Nairobi pay Sh3,500, a journey that takes two days, while those from Wajir pay Sh2,500 for the one day journey.

The residents, who list tarmacking of the highway as their priority, have been lamenting over the exorbitant transport costs largely occasioned by the pathetic state of the road.

"Imagine I must raise Sh15,000 for bus fare alone when I travel with my wife to Nairobi and back," Mohamed Hassan who runs a cyber café in Mandera town tells Xinhua news agency.

The transport crisis worsens during the rainy season when journeys that normally take a day or two can take a week or two as the road becomes impassable.

The management of the bus companies normally advise commuters to carry packed food, drinking water and even mosquito nets in anticipation of spending a couple of days along the way in case they get stuck at the muddy sections.

When the buses, which are the only public service vehicles which ply the route withdraw their services, the only option left for people who need to urgently travel to Nairobi is taking a flight which costs a prohibitive Sh20,000, which is unaffordable to many.

Passengers get exhausted as a result of the torturous journey marked by dusty and bumpy rides, which leaves some of them sick while others arrive with blood shot eyes because of the dust and lack of sleep. However, the journey to Garissa from Nairobi via Thika and Mwingi is smooth as the stretch is tarmacked.

"The high travel costs are pegged on the high expenditure we incur on fuel, spare parts and general wear and tear occasioned by the pathetic state of the road and massive distance," said Mohamed Yussuf, a conductor with the Tawakal Bus Services.

"We are not out to exploit the passengers by charging a lot, but as a matter of fact, if we dare charge anything less than Sh3,500 from Nairobi to Mandera then we would be operating at a loss," Mohamed told the Star.

Mohamed Khalif, a veteran driver with one of the buses plying the route, said the bus that he is assigned consumes 1,800 litres of diesel for a journey to Nairobi and back, which costs Sh129,600 going by the current price of 120 per litre.

He said due to the sorry state of the road, a set of six brand new tyres bought at Sh168,000 going by the current price of Sh28,000 each wear out in less than two months.

"The journey is not complete without a crew of hired mechanics who carry out regular service along the way; that is how expensive it is," Mohamed said.

The genesis of marginalisation of North Eastern region, previously the Northern Frontier District, started in the early 1960s when the ethnic Somalis sought to secede to the new republic of Somalia, prompting the government then to enact repressive measures to frustrate their efforts which saw the area remaining secluded and neglected in terms of development for many years.

This has resulted in the area suffering serious underdevelopment which makes the residents view themselves as second class citizens.

"Our main interest is to see the Mandera-Wajir-Garissa section being upgraded to ease transportation. That is the best gift the Jubilee government which we voted for overwhelmingly will bestow us," Sofia Bule, a Mandera resident, said.


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