The Writing Is On The Wall


The construction of the security wall between Kenya and Somalia has begun. 700kms of concrete to fend off Al Shabaab insurgents along the Kenya- Somalia border. The basis of the wall is flawed. The timing, knee-jerk. A good number of the terrorism suspects are Kenyans, living securely within our borders. Their funding networks are embedded in the country. Entire communities have ethnic ties across the Somalia border. Where does one even start? Mega projects are typically conduits for mega corruption and the opportunity to pilfer is written all over the proposed wall. The tender-preneurs must be salivating and rubbing their palms together. We have long list of pending national priorities that could make any patriot want to bang their head against a wall. The security machinery is in need of a serious overhaul. The incompetence on display can be tracked to systemic flaws that are routinely ignored. Corruption within the security ranks is at epic levels.

The reason for a low-key opposition against the audacious construction project must be due to Kenyans affinity to walls. When a Kenyan private developer grabs land, the first order of business is the construction of a perimeter wall.

When I was growing up manicured hedges lined properties. In most estates, fences were nonexistent and gates were rare. Where gates existed, they were only a few feet high and see-through. In the affluent neighbourhoods, bamboo fence and barbed wire served as a deterrence. Over the last two decades, the population exploded, rogue elements multiplied and the rate of house burglaries increased. In response to insecurity, walls replaced live hedges at a rapid rate. Over time the gates have gotten larger and solid.

I live in a walled and gated city. New residential properties are all walled in. No sensible Nairobian would move into a housing estate that did not have a perimeter wall. Inner walls are constructed within the perimeter walls to separate neighbours who treasure privacy. Sophisticated security alarms are installed within those walls and unarmed watchmen control entry through a hole in the wall. Watchmen and women are the underclass that man the walls and gates, every few meters apart. In suburbs of the city, there is a ratio of a watchman for every ten citizens.

A 100 years from now, Nairobi will be reminiscent of Lamu Old Stone town. Historians will talk of the barricaded buildings, massive solid gates, numerous sentry posts, the narrow roads, of the old city and marvel at fortressed existence of past Nairobi residents who solved problems by building more walls.

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan writer, curator and editor. This blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan and African life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.

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