Border Post 1: Mandera
BY DANIEL WESANGULA
On a hot lazy afternoon, a tale is told at the Mandera Police Post of a certain senior officer newly uprooted from the comforts of the capital city and deployed to the station. Having never been to that part of the country, the new officer contracted a government driver and a government car to shuttle him to his new destination.
When the two gentlemen were some 100 km from Mandera, the officer received a message on his cellphone. Eager to know who was thinking of him at that moment and excited to have come back to an area within cellphone network coverage, he whipped out his gadget and read the message aloud.
“Welcome to Somalia…” he didn’t finish it.
Alarmed, he ordered his driver off the road and immediately called his seniors in Nairobi. The message he had was simple. He said that in his eagerness, his driver had missed a turn and found his way into Somalia. Panicking, he requested his superiors to immediately send a search and rescue team to get both of them out. The thought of him being under terrorists was scary.
However, as it turned out he was just a few kilometres from Rhamu Tow and barely 80km from Mandera. Nevertheless, he would not budge unless an escort was sent his way.
Mandera Police Post has a story to tell. Its importance in the war against terror cannot be overemphasized. Nothing jumps out of the ordinary when one walks towards it from the Kenyan side. But from the Somalia side, things begin to stand out. Entire walls are riddle with bullet holes, not from the distant past but from the present.
“You see that one in the middle of the door, the bullet that went through it took the life of an officer,” offers a junior policeman. He has not been granted permission to talk by his seniors.
The roof has bullet holes. The police quarters are riddled with them. Building support beams too.
And at one corner, the bodies of two white buses and a Land Rover lie in ruin.
“You see those, those were left behind by Siad Barre as he fled his own country,” the officer offers.
One of the two busses has a shattered rear window. Shards of glass still litter the ground around it. Surely, this too cannot be from the Barre years.
“They threw a bomb here the other day. That is what caused the damage. Another day, they bombed one of our living quarters. We don’t even sleep inside the houses anymore. This place… you just have to keep moving.”
The main suspended metal water tank is also not in use.
“It is full of bullet holes. It can’t hold anything.”
As an alternative, they use an underground tank.
Here, gunshots or explosions are not out of the ordinary.
Danger. Death. Survival. All follow each other but in no particular order.
During the day, stray dogs in their tens go to the station for safety.
“At times the dogs come from as far out as Ethiopia. They are wild dogs. They come here because we protect them. The locals stone them because they eat their goats and sheep,” the officer says.
Even a walk through the station is eerie. How many unavenged spirits walk the Mandera Police Post grounds? How many litres of blood lost? How many homes of former police officers who were serving in this station and similar ones are still grieving?
“Many,” the officer says. He is barely 30 years old. He is on his third year at the police station.
Every few minutes cars on the Somali side drive almost to the Kenyan gate and drop off passengers. Some pass through the police station gate. Most don’t. Outside the confines of the station is open country that goes on for miles and miles.
Plus, there are little, if any, controls on the other side.
In the evening, children studying in nearby schools go back to their homes on the Somalia side. Tomorrow they make their way abroad for another round of learning.
Thin lines. Imaginary lines. Shifting lines. Lines crossed daily by pupils. Lines that may be the difference between life and death for the young officer at the border post. Lines that must be defended at all cost by one side, and breached through whatever means by another.