It is Thursday night. The long journey of over 1000km to Mandera from Nairobi began at around 11 pm. This was after a two-hour delay that ignited passengers’ furry.
Like any long journey, commotion inside the Tawakal bus continued for some time before everyone settled and the driver roared the engine.
Mandera town is the headquarters of Mandera County, located in the former North Eastern Province. It borders Ethiopia to the north and Somalia to the east.
The young budding county has been frequented by terror attacks and clan clashes in recent years.
On the journey, the first person alighted at Kithyoko town, Machakos County and the next stop was at Mwingi town at half-past two o’clock.
We ended up staying in the cold for over an hour – the bus had mechanical issues. Mechanics have to be called to fix it before we continue. Often, journeys to North Eastern County are characterized by many uncertainties.
After an hour or so, we were back on the road heading to Garissa. Past Garissa the road is not tarmacked and so you can imagine the horror of cruising through to Mandera.
The majority of the passengers are Muslims, so on our way to Garissa, the driver announced prayer time. We jointly say our prayers by the roadside. Garissa County is around 320km from Nairobi, meaning we are not yet half through our journey.
Just as we progress with our journey, an unimaginable incident that could have fatally terminated our journey took place. General Service Unit officers who are manning a roadblock almost shoot at us after the driver fails to stop for screening.
“Stop the bus or I will shoot you,” commands one of them.
Due to numerous terror-related attacks, police often mount roadblocks to screen vehicles. However, in the vast and abandoned regions of North Eastern Kenya, it is sometimes hard to know where a certain roadblock is placed.
As the driver was speeding, he didn’t notice the roadblock, fearing for the passenger safety, he stopped speedily past the checkpoint.
The officers order us out of the bus, search the vehicle and apologize thereafter for their conduct. They then assure us that it was for our own safety. We took off hurriedly.
It is six o’clock in the morning. The gearbox and the radiator have failed to function. This is the second time the bus is having a mechanical malfunction. You can imagine our frustrations amid prayers for safety.
One hour later we safely reached Garissa town, proceeding without a breathing stop. This is where we meet the first traffic officer who became the proverbial early bird catches the worm.
Typical of Kenyan police, he is ‘sorted out’ as we continued through Dujis–Madogashe route which is deemed shorter and secure.
Thickets and the dusty northern road just began. Our safe ride is short-lived when the front tires entered a muddy surface.
The heat from the scorching sun and sunbaked ground with very little vegetation are unbearable. Temperature soar and needless to say, there are no shades we can shelter.
Just a few meters we saw Chinese bulldozers maintaining the impassable road. They come to our aid, pull the vehicle and we are back on track.
Our next stop is Modogashe. We hurriedly had our lunch in Modogashe, a town situated at the intersection of Wajir, Garissa and Isiolo counties.
Apart from a few traders and shopkeepers, the rest are probably escaping the hot sun at their homes. Carrying enough drinking water when traveling will help you wade off dehydration in the harsh and hot temperature of thirty-eight degrees Celsius.
Forty minutes past six o’clock in the evening the vehicle arrives in Wajir Town, the capital city of Wajir County.
The formerly marginalized town has reaped a lot from devolution as can be seen with the numerous infrastructural development. Wajir is the only northern town with an international airport.
Unfortunately, we get another mechanical problem which lasts for hours past Wajir town.
Twenty minutes past ten o’clock at night we arrived at the rural town of Kutulo, Mandera. The area has been hard hit by terrorists.
Alshabab ruined the Safaricom masts a few months ago and the only network available is Airtel. But the little town is known for such goodies – an abundance of delicious meat. Amidst the fear, tiring journey, we ate and slept peacefully.
It is early Sunday morning. We traveled to El Wak, a town bordering Somalia. We are informed that the previous day two quarry workers were killed by al-Shabaab militia in Shimbir Fatuma, along El Wak-Takaba road.
Police officers instructed us to wait for the other buses so that we move together. Under heavy security, we moved as we pray for safety.
It is 2 pm, we arrive at Rhamu town which sits on the banks of River Daua and borders Ethiopia. Clan clashes between the Garre and Degodia have taken a toll on the town.
Cheap and sweet mangoes are living evidence of rich agricultural soil.
On the top of Sala hill, for the last time, the vehicle suddenly reversed causing panic among the passengers. We alight for the last time for the issue to be resolved amicably.
Finally, twenty minutes past five o’clock our long and tiring journey ends at Mandera town and everybody is happy that we have arrived safely. Of the four days Journey to Mandera from the Capital, Nairobi ends here.