Kenya is not building a wall on its entire border with Somalia, Interior secretary Joseph Nkaissery has said.
Mr Nkaissery told a parliamentary committee that a security barrier is being constructed on a small portion around Mandera town to help control and screen people crossing into Kenya.
“We are not building a 700-kilometre wall. We are only erecting a barrier between Bula Hawa and Mandera towns, which have no man’s land,” the minister told the National Assembly’s Committee on Administration and National Security last Thursday, adding that the plan was to establish entry points with police checks, immigration and customs officials.
A wall, whose cost was initially estimated at Sh20 billion, had been touted as Kenya’s best bet in keeping Somalia-based terrorists Al-Shabaab from sneaking into the country.
Immigration Services Director Gordon Kihalangwa, who has been nominated to serve as principal secretary for Interior and Co-ordination of National Government, had indicated that the wall would be constructed along the entire Kenya-Somalia border to keep out illegal immigrants and to check the proliferation of small arms into the country.
Deputy President William Ruto affirmed Mr Kihalangwa’s position on April 7 when he declared that construction of the 700-km wall had begun, even as he brushed aside questions whether proper procedures had been followed in hiring a contractor.
The government has been weighing the option of erecting a security barrier in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks in its territory by Al-Shabaab insurgents.
The latest and deadliest of the attacks took place on April 2 at Garissa University College where 147 people were killed.
Mr Ruto had indicated that the wall would run from Border Point One in Mandera to Kiunga in Lamu. The project, however, runs the risk of reviving old border disagreements between Kenya and Somalia.
A surveillance road was also to be built, running parallel with the barrier, for easier monitoring of the border.
The barrier was expected to be modelled on the snaking structure that separates Israel from Palestine’s West Bank and would have seen bricks, mortar and barbed wire line the border.
Mr Nkaissery’s declaration that there were no plans to erect the multi-billion-shilling wall followed criticism that the effort would not protect Kenya from attacks given the ongoing radicalisation of youths within the country’s borders.
It has also been suggested that using drones to monitor activity along the porous border would offer better protection against infiltration than building a wall.
The government has not disclosed the cost of constructing the proposed Mandera barrier but reports indicate it will comprise a concrete barrier with listening posts, surveillance stations and CCTV cameras.
Asman Kamama, who chairs the National Assembly’s security committee, said Parliament had recommended the erection of a wall along the Kenya-Somalia border in its report on the Westgate shopping mall terror attack on September 21, 2013 in which 68 people were killed.
“It must be recalled that this committee had in its recommendations proposed the erection of a permanent security wall and repatriation of refugees from Dadaab [camp] back to Somalia,” Mr Kamama said.
Lagdera MP Mohammed Shidiye said it would be extremely expensive to erect a wall along the entire length of the border, adding that the project would be unsustainable.
“Let’s not waste billions building a wall. Let the government fight radicalisation through ideology and not walls. That money can be used to build roads and improve the economy of that region,” Mr Shidiye said.
Mr Nkaissery was in Parliament to answer questions over the Garissa attack for which Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.
The Al-Qaeda-linked militants have warned Kenya of a long-drawn war unless Kenyan troops in Somalia as part of the African Union peace keeping force are withdrawn.
Kenya has responded to the Garissa attacks with the demand that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shuts down the world’s largest refugee camp at Dadaab and repatriates the nearly 350,000 Somali refugees living there by July.
The United Nations has, however, warned that the repatriation order would have “extreme humanitarian and practical consequences” and is a violation of international law.