The Al-Qaida linked Al-Shabaab militants based in Somalia have demanded ‘immediate” evacuation of non-locals working in northeastern Kenya, threatening to deal with those who defy the order “individually”.
Northeastern is one of the marginalised regions in Kenya and the manpower to many sectors usually involves non-locals, mostly Christians from other parts of the country.
For years, the non-local community has borne the brunt of Al-Shabaab attacks, with dozens losing their lives, a move which has led to withdrawal on hundreds of teachers from the region.
Ali Dhere, the Al-Shabaab defacto spokesman, called for an immediate evacuation of the non-locals, in a statement that could lead to an impromptu security meeting in Kenya.
In 20-minute audio posted by an Al-Shabaab allied website, Dhere is heard deliberating on the current education crisis in the region, terming Kenya’s government decision to withdraw teachers as “discriminatory”.
For the local population to become self-sufficient, he said “Muslim teachers, doctors, engineers and young graduates from the North Eastern province are unemployed. Isn’t it better to give them a chance? There is no need for the presence of disbelievers.”
Wednesday’s warning, which forms the basis of the militants’ propaganda, was the first directed to the government of Kenya over the current impasse facing the education sector in the Muslim dominated region.
Statistics from education ministry indicates that over 2,300 teachers have been withdrawn from Wajir, Garissa and Mandera counties, a move that has grounded teaching in the regions.
Records show that over 42 teachers have been killed in Al-Shabaab related attacks since 2014, with most of the raids coming along the roads where the militants target passenger buses.
Al-Shabaab blames local leadership
Besides warning non-locals, a message which targets teachers, doctors, drivers, and civil servants, the militants also took a swipe at the local leadership, blaming them for fueling the predicament.
In recent weeks, including during Sunday’s rally at Garissa, local leaders urged the government to urgently fix the crisis, arguing that “our children deserve equal chances like the rest”.
Governors Ali Roba [Mandera], Ali Korane [Garissa] and Mohamed Abdi [Wajir] have been rallying for the redeployment of teachers, although their efforts are yet to yield fruits.
But Mr. Dhere, whose whereabouts remain unknown, appeared to take a jab at the leaders, questioning their ability to diligently serve locals.
He said: “Don’t be misled by the officials who claim to represent you and speak your language. In fact, they are only fulfilling the agenda of the Kenyan government.”
“They do not represent you in any way. Trust Allah and never trust the Kenyan government,” said Dhere, who has been the face of Al-Shabaab messaging in recent times.
Cases of Al-Shabaab raids in northeastern seems to be in an upward trajectory, despite heavy deployment of Special Forces from KDF team in the region.
For instance, armed militants attacked a passenger bus in Mandera last week. On Wednesday, a telecommunication mast was destroyed in the same county, officials said.
Government stands with teachers
But despite pressure to redeploy the teachers, the government seems to have taken a firm stand in favor of the tutors, some who are in the process of exiting the region.
Nancy Macharia, the CEO of Teachers Service Commission [TSC], on Wednesday defended the withdrawal of non-local teachers but insisted the decision was taken on humanitarian grounds.
“If our teachers today are assured of security and safety, we will post teachers in the afternoon,” Ms. Macharia told National Assembly’s Education Committee.
Previously, she said, her character has been vilified by teachers over the failure to protect them from frequent Al-Shabaab raids in northeastern.
“Right to life is sacrosanct and supersedes all other rights,” She added, an indication that the crisis could persist to unforeseen future.
But Dhere said: “We come to your support in order to restore your dignity, your country, and your self-determination”.
A possible solution for the crisis
However, the government has resorted to gambling targeting teachers from the region who had since quit from TSC for other adventures, a move that could offer a temporary solution.
Also, the government is keen to have more locals who trained as teachers applying for the job so that they can reinforce the current team on the ground.
“We are asking the leaders of the Northeastern region to help us in encouraging their locals who are trained teachers, to apply for teaching jobs in that region,” Ms. Macharia said.
Prof. George Magoha, the education minister, told MPs that students who scored good grades from the region should also be encouraged to join teaching.
“I am aware that there are 24,058 students in the North-Eastern region who scored grade C plain and above,” he said. “I don’t see why we cannot train them to be teachers, to teach in their own locality.”
But Billow Kerrow, the former Mandera Senator, has faulted the position taken by the government, terming it “unprecedented” and discriminatory.
“Hypocrisy! The right to life of teachers cannot supersede the right to life of children or their parents; both are targets of terrorists, with hundreds killed,” he said.
“What do these professors smoke? 148 students died in Garissa univ attack but it remains open. What’s special abt teachers?”
The Al-Shabaab militants have been greatly weakened by SNA and allied troops, although they have been executing sporadic attacks across East Africa.