#WalkofHope: Kenya’s northeastern residents to walk 1,000 kilometersHundreds of residents from northeastern Kenya Saturday started an 800-kilometer walk dubbed “Walk of Hope” that aims to create awareness about the region’s deteriorating security and lack of development.
“After 52 years of whining, complaining and playing the perfect victim, some of us have decided to quit the complainants club,” said activist and author Salah Abdi Shekh, the main organizer of the event. “We want to start doing it our way, the best way we know how.”
The walk kicked off at the Tana River Bridge in Garissa County and will go all the way to Border Point 1 in Mandera County on the border with Somalia.
The Walk of Hope attracted hundreds of residents, some who came from as far as Mombasa in the Coast region.
“We want to create a movement that will liberate the people of north from poverty, illiteracy and insecurity,” Salah told SAHAN. “We want to unite our people ans inspire hope.”
Salah said they hope to cover 30 kilometres every day for about 30 days, stopping by villages along the way and talking to local elders.
There was a mass exodus of teachers and health professionals from this mainly Somali-inhabited region following a series of high-profile attacks in Garissa and Mandera in the past few months.
“I choose to walk the walk because every other commitment will be with me today, tomorrow and until the last day of my life,” Salah said. “I choose to give 30 days of my life to this walk.”
More than 300 people showed up at the event flag-off with the majority of them turning up to escort the team to a place called Modikare, around 10 kilometers from the Tana River Bridge.
Ayan Ali, who came all the way from Mombasa to join the walk, had to rescind her decision when she found out that her fellow would-be walkers were all all men.
“I was very determined to walk with these guys but I can’t be the only lady in the group,” Ayan said.
Garissa Assistant Sub-County Commissioner Stephen Orindi urged residents to work with police in confronting security in the region.
“As the president says, security starts with you,” Orindi said as he flagged off the walkers. “We should work together and make sure our town [Garissa] remains safe as before.”
Mukhtar Ibrahim, Garissa County executive for water, wished the walkers a great journey and expressed his joy at the initiative.
“Without piece, there is no development and harmony hence we hope that this forum will change things in our counties,” Mukhtar said.
Garissa has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. Intermittent al-Shabaab attacks have claimed many lives in the region, including the attack on Garissa University College in April that killed more than 150 students.
Since the attack, the economy of the region has significantly suffered with major institutions, including schools and supermarkets, being closed down for fear of facing further attacks.
Since then, the town, hitherto voted the safest in East and Central Africa, has been imposed with dusk-to-dawn curfew.
These incidences are what made Salah, and other northeastern professionals, decide to walk through all the three counties of the region — Garissa, Wajir and Mandera — to create awareness on the importance of peace.
Nurdin Badal, a football coach in Garissa and one of the organizers, said that northeastern residents should identify their problems and face them head on.
“This walk should be an annual event where we gather and walk to create awareness for our people,” Nurdin told SAHAN. “We should identify our problems and look for solutions.”
The walkers got support from the Kenya Red Cross Society which provided an ambulance that will follow them till the end of the walk. Orange Kenya, a telecoms company in Kenya, provided caps, T-shirts and umbrellas.
However, some attendants raised the question of security. The walkers have no security detail to protect them as they trek the vast distance between Garissa and Mandera.
Salah, however, is not alarmed by the lack of security for the team. “Who will be interested in attacking people who are walking with bags and uniform T-shirts in the month of Ramadan?” he posits.
Some residents have criticized the walk, saying that walking all the way to Mandera is very risky and that there are other ways of creating awareness without necessarily walking nearly to 1,000 kilometers.
“I don’t see the reason of using a lot of money while risking your life,” said Farah Rashid, a Garissa resident. “They can stay in Garissa, talk to people and go to the next town [Wajir, Mandera] and do the same using vehicles. There is a better way of creating such awareness.”
Abdirizak Shekh Ali, an elder in Garissa, said that walking might not answer all the pertinent questions of the region.
“The most important thing right now is we need to strengthen the relationship between the police and the residents especially the youth,” he said. “This is the only way.”
Osman is a Kenyan journalist and a contributing writer for Sahan Journal.
Follow him on Twitter: @OsmanMOsman_