Kenya’s controversial plan to build an anti-terrorism wall on its border with Somalia now has another hurdle to overcome: a workers’ strike. On Monday, Kenyan daily the Nation reported that the National Youth Service (NYS) workers have downed their tools over withheld pay.
According to the protesting workers, they each get a basic salary of about $127 but they were also promised $123 immediately after they arrived from Nairobi in March, plus a daily allowance of $41. These payments never materialized, so the workers have vowed to strike until all their allowances are paid.
Furthermore, one worker wishing to remain anonymous said they were attacked by militants at the public works compound where they were stationed. And after moving to a police-run compound, their lives were still at risk “because even the officers there say they will not secure us because they have not been paid as well,” he added. So the workers’ other demands are for medical coverage and protective gear, including bulletproof jackets.
The wall would not be an absolute barrier. It would have numerous openings with police checkpoints, a key feature for supporters like Mandera Governor Ali Roba. He asserted that the wall will improve security in the county and ward off terrorists, and said “Better demarcation will reduce rate of crime.” He then added that the porosity of the border has aided suspects who easily disappear into Somalia after committing crimes. Looking ahead, Roba said that the wall will be necessary until Somali stabilizes, and it “can be demolished after that.”
However, Somalia’s weak government protests the planned wall, claiming it will prevent Somalis from doing business with their Kenyan counterparts. And even an impenetrable wall wouldn’t end violence and terrorism in Kenya. An op-ed piece published in the Nation in July expressed this point precisely: “It is high time the government realised the recent surge in terror attacks is not a result of an influx of Somali refugees or a whole battalion of Al-Shabaab militia but of a trend of young gullible Kenyan youths being radicalised in our very mosques and homes.” Notoriously, 148 people were killed on April 2 at Garissa University College by four Al Shabaab terrorists — one of whom was the son of a Kenyan government minister who became a radical Islamist.
In any case, the wall has only around 50 NYS workers — hardly an all-out effort for a national security project. “This was to be a six-month project but lack of payment is slowing it down. We doubt if the project will be realized at all,” said a NYS driver in October. Indeed, according to a source at the office coordinating the construction, only the survey work for the wall has been completed.
At this rate, it’s clear that Kenya can’t count on the wall anytime soon, if ever, in its fight against terrorism.