Garissa presents two sides of one town
Published on 12/11/2008
By Boniface Ongeri and Adow Jubat
Garissa town presents two contrasting worlds.
One side features modern hotels and business blocks, which makes the town a business hub.
But the immediate outskirts have run-down manyattas (known in Somali as herio) where the poor live inches away from their herds.
The juxtaposition of rural poverty and urban affluence presents the biggest challenges in delivering services in the North Eastern Province (NEP) headquarters.
Garissa town, along Ngamia Road.
This perhaps led to the recent crackdown dubbed, ‘Operation Restore Garissa Cadey (Somali for cleanliness).
The operation was meant to end the mushrooming manyatta slums and open the way for expansion of the town.
Garissa Mayor Abdullahi Yussuf says despite the challenges his council is determined to make the town a modern metropolis.
"If we are to be a world class town, some things have to give way, he says, of the decision to demolish the slums.
The slum dwellers mostly come from drought-prone areas of the province.
Others are refugees from areas prone to cattle rustling or those running away from harsh conditions in refugee camps.
And if there is someone who could change the dusty image of Garissa it is Mayor Yussuf.
He reports to work daily wearing a neat beard and a well pressed Kaunda suit in a place where many councillors turn up at the town Hall clad in kikois.
"I will do it. During my term I can transform this town into an economic hub," he told The Standard in a recent interview.
But the odds against his ambition are many and he knows them.
The most outstanding feature is the Tana River, which flows wide and silent before it enters neighbouring Tana River District.
The Tana River Bridge at the town stands on the provincial boundary, one side is in NEP, while the other is in Coast Province.
And for long, the river itself has been both a blessing and sources of misery.
It is a key source of water for the town’s residents and livestock, but when it rains it bursts its banks, wreaking floods havoc.
Many people, especially those living in manyattas, have also been killed crocodiles from the river.
The mayor and his team, also have to grapple with a rising population of about 200,000.
Local Mayor Adullahi Yussuf talks to US marine Kevin Countermine (left) and captain Paul Gichuhi from the Kenya Army.
The town’s sewerage system serves only 373 of 2,000 business units in a town.
The town is served by diesel-generated power, which can only cater for 6.4 per cent of the population.
The Garissa District Development office report says only 6,823 house holds are connected to the main water supply.
The mayor is a board member of the Northern Water and Sewerage Board, which supplies water to the residents.
"Sarce amenities are stretched to the limit and most residents are short of, for instance water," he says.
The jury is still out on the performance of the board four years later.
Garissa town is the gateway to North Eastern Province and the Horn of Africa, giving it a vantage point in terms of trade and development.
Local legend has it that, British colonial rulers, who established it as their gateway to NEP and Somalia, named it Garissa after a Pokomo elder Karisa.
The town has over 17,000 registered traders at the council with informal sector taking the largest share.
Trade in the district revolves around agricultural products, general merchandise, hospitality and service industry. There are no major manufacturing industries.
On the outskirts, there is potential for tourism, but a history of banditry and cattle rustling has kept off many would-be visitors.
"Garissa has so much potential," says former North Eastern PC Mohammud Saleh, who is credited with eradicating of banditry in the province.
"It is not just a town. We dream of a city where people from this region would forget other towns.
"If Garissa prospers, so will the country," he says.
Due to poverty, beggars and street children are also a big problem the council has to deal with.
On a good note, Garissa Municipal Council has a resident camp to monitor terror cells in ungoverned Somalia.
The marines have helped put up garbage collection centres and installed dustbins at strategic points.
But clan wrangles bog down the local authority operations. Often, politicians meddle with the vacancies, installing their own in return for support.
The clans accuse one another of corruption and rarely unite in development matters.
Such discontent often spills into the streets and residents still complain of discrimination.
"Those with influence or cash are given priority. Most of us who cannot afford the services continue suffering and die from poor sanitary conditions," says Miss Zeinabu Ahmed a resident.
But Yussuf, ODM nominated councillor, says everybody will be on board to develop the town.
"I made several pledges while running for office. I believe with the help of everyone, we can make this town the pride of NEP," he says.