Tuesday, December 02, 2014

What Mandera means.

The knock-on effect of the Mandera massacres will be profound. Like a ripple in a pond, the concentric circles will spread far and wide. Public services will crumble. Public goods will cease to be supplied. And that is before we look at the private goods and services that rely overwhelmingly on the supply of public goods and services. For the massacre of 70 Kenyans, al Shabaab has all but crippled Mandera, its government, its economy and its chances at a decent start in the long devolution sweepstakes.

A look at the basic public services affected by the massacres should make us all hang our heads in shame. Education and healthcare alone rely on Kenyan professionals from outside the county. The first massacre took the lives of teachers. In its wake, the national nurses' union demanded security for its members working in Mandera. After last night's massacre, the nurses' union, just like the teachers' unions, is advising its members working in Mandera to leave the county until their safety is assured. Teachers are away on holiday, but going by the sentiments of some, they will not be returning to Mandera any time soon. In two fell swoops, al Shabaab guaranteed that school-going children will forever remain academically handicapped and at risk of preventable diseases.

If the safety of the people remains in doubt for much longer, Mandera may be the first county to fall under emergency rule from the centre. When civil servants defy the Code of Regulations and refuse to report for work because they have no faith that the government they serve is able to assure their safety, it is only a matter of time before the private investors make up their minds that they are best engaged in economic activities some place else. This too will be clear for many of them when the little disposable income available to the civil servants remain unavailable for spending in their hotels, coffee shops, bars, butcheries and brothels. Both the real and undergrounds economies of Mandera will collapse. Then Mandera's problems will get worse.

It will become a county of residents and security agents, both uniformed and covert. Many of the resident will become informants and spies, for both sides. They will pick sides, of that there is no doubt. The central government will react with draconian measures. Curfews will be imposed. free movement will be curtailed. Public areas will be off limits. Everyone will be under scrutiny. Suspicion will be pervasive. Mistrust will grow. Any "incident" will be met with overwhelming overreaction. The vicious cycle will get more vicious. 

Meanwhile, an entire generation will come of age knowing nothing but army raids, police brutality and mysterious murders. Preachers of hate-as-hope will prevail. They will be charismatic. They will offer direction. They will offer guidance. They will offer a future denied to an impressionable, hormonal, angry generation. hundreds, maybe thousands, will heed the call of the preachers. They will denounce their nation. They will denounce their parents. They will denounce their leaders. They will denounce their government. They will take up arms. Then the wheels will truly come off the train.

All along fighters have been infiltrating the county in search of targets. Eventually they won't have to. We will do the job of recruitment for them. We will alienate hundreds of thousands of Kenyans by refusing to admit that Mandera is a war zone. That alienation will create a generation of potential fifth columnists, collaborators and traitors. The county will be a hotbed of intrigue. And ever larger swathes of Kenyan territory will have been conquered by al Shabaab without it fighting a war or seizing ground. If you doubt that al Shabaab has conquered territory in Kenya, witness the curfew in Lamu entering the fifth week, the militarised streets of Mombasa that haven't prevented marauding knife-wielding gangs that kill with impunity, and the successive massacres in Mandera. Don't let Mandera fall. If it does, like Lamu and Mombasa, then we all fall.

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