NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 18 – “They were 15 gangsters. They shot twice at the tyres of our lorry. Then they descended on us with a thorough beating before stealing everything that we had. I think one of my hands is broken,” Ibrahim Sheghalo recounts his close encounter with death moments after being attacked on the Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale Road.
It is shortly after 5pm. The Capital FM News crew is lucky to have escaped the attack that lasted for about 15 minutes.
As we drive close to the scene of attack, we find about 20 people. Some victims are bleeding from various parts of their bodies. The women are seated together, but in deep silence. They either have hands clenched together on their chests or have them folded. Others are sobbing as they try to cover their heads with their hijabs.
At the back of the lorry, there are two men cutting the neck of a huge white cow that is throwing its last kicks after a bullet ripped through its abdomen. One man is seated alone on a rock holding his hand below his chin. That is the only action we can spot on the dusty, rough, hilly and lonely road.
After our arrival, they all rush to our car begging for a ride to the nearest police station.
Just like them, we are in shock and fear as we had witnessed the attack from a distance. The gunshots and the shouts were loud and clear, but the cloud of dust hindered us from seeing the entire incident but also kept us safe. A sharp bend between us and the lorry is also what saved our crew from the dreadful attack.
“We had 21 cows in this lorry. We were going to sell them in Nairobi. Each cow costs about Sh20,000. They have stolen the rest, they shot this one (pointing at the dying one) because it was not fast like the rest,” Sheghalo who was still trembling as he spoke recounted.
A plainclothes Administration Police officer is part of the group. He narrated to us how he escaped being noticed he is a police officer.
“I heard the gunshots, and I knew they were the ones (the thugs). The first thing I did was to hide my job card because if they come across the police, they have to kill us,” the AP explained appearing visibly shaken.
He says the attackers used coded language making it difficult to know where they come from or which language they speak.
Unfortunately, there is no mobile network coverage in the area between Logologo and Laisamis. We could not call the police but drive slowly on the bumpy road looking for the nearest police station.
The distance from Isiolo to Marsabit is 200 kilometres. Half of the road is not tarmacked.
The 122 kilometres section that is untarmacked from Merille to Marsabit is in a pathetic condition. Only 4-wheel drive vehicles can tackle road but still at snail pace speed. Even after an attack, one cannot speed off. The person on foot is faster than the one driving!
This is what attracts gangsters who emerge from bushes or rocks and prey on vehicles struggling to drive up the rough road. They also know there is no telephone network in the area.
After giving a lift to about six people in our car, it took us one and half hours to get a police station to report the incident and also drop them off.
But on informing the police at Laisamis police station of the incident, the response was even more shocking. “Watu wangapi wamekufa (How many people died?),” a policeman asked and our answer was none but we explained that they had been beaten and their belongings stolen and that there were still people at the scene waiting for help.
The policeman dismissed us, “hiyo sio kitu, tuko na kazi mingi za maana. (that is not an issue, there are more serious other things to do.”
On that note, we beefed up our security with two additional Administration Police officers to join the two we had as we drove towards Isiolo.
On the way, the APs who refused to be identified told us that on a single day not less than two people are killed on the Merille-Marsabit road, “this is normal here, people are attacked on a daily basis, people die on this route every day.”
Their story confirmed reports we had collected earlier on our way to Marsabit.
On our way back to Isiolo we found one person shot dead. The door of his lorry was open as he lay lifeless just below the driver’s seat. There was nothing we could do, even the AP officers were not bothered. “We cannot risk stopping here the body will be picked tomorrow.”
Mathew Labarakwe, a retired chief in Laisamis, told us that the road from Merille to Marsabit is a death trap. ‘Even when people are sick, it is hard to take them to hospital. This road is terrible. There is no security.”
Besides the security nightmare, Labarakwe decried that lack of mobile phone network to help in communication made it worse, “for people to make phone calls, they have to walk for 15 kilometres to climb the hills where there is network.”
Roads Ministry Permanent Secretary Michael Kamau told Capital FM News that the ministry will open the bidding process on July 27 this year. He said once a contractor is picked for the project funded by the European Union and the government it is expected that the road between Merille – Marsabit – Moyale will start early next year and should be complete by mid 2015.
He explained that the road should have been complete two years ago but there were issues that affected the procurement process.
“We are really working hard. I know people using the road are worried because work is going on between Turbi and Moyale and they are wondering why Merille-Marsabit road was skipped. The road could have been completed 2 years ago but we had problems with procurement,” he said.
The PS also informed us that during the construction of the road from Isiolo to Merille, two road constructors were killed by bandits. He said the government plans to set up police posts after every 15 kilometres to fight rampant crime.
“When we constructed the first session between Isiolo and Merille River, the contractor lost two of his staff, the contractor then started working with a contingent of 45 police officers. From the lessons learnt, we will dig boreholes and near every borehole there will be a police officer every 15 kilometres,” he explained.