The government of Kenya recently announced they are seeking financing for a proposed road that would link Kenya with Somalia. The Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) pronounced that designs had been completed for a proposed road connecting Garissa to Liboi, a Kenyan town just 12 km shy of the Somalia border. No tarmacked road currently exists connecting Garissa to Liboi, though dirt tracks and so-called panya routes or “rat routes” connect the two countries, allowing smugglers, illegal migrants and terrorists affiliated with al-Shabaab access from Somalia into Kenya and vice-versa.
In a public announcement in late June 2015, KeNHA Acting Director General Linus Tonui hoped the construction of the approximately 200 km. road would increase trade between Kenya and Somalia and lead to greater infrastructure development. Furthermore, an improved transport corridor would enhance Kenya’s security posture in the region and allow the more rapid movement of troops to and from the border region. The proposed Garissa-Liboi road is a minor part of the Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor, a transport and infrastructure project that will cross northern Kenya, connecting the country to Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia via roads, pipelines and other infrastructure projects. It will be the Kenya's alternative transport corridor when completed.
KeNHA’s announcement that they are seeking financing for the construction of the Garissa-Liboi road should be welcome news for many in Kenya’s northeastern region, which has been characterized by insecurity and lack of infrastructure. Should construction proceed it may boost economic growth and spur further investment. However, KeNHA may find that financing is hard to come by given general insecurity in the region and the devastating terrorist attack carried out by al-Shabaab on Garissa University that left over 140 people dead in April 2015. Should financing be located, KeNHA may experience similar difficulties in locating a contractor and workers willing to carry out construction in such a dangerous location. Al-Shabaab terrorists are known to use the difficult terrain and panya routes to their advantage and have proven able to attack remote outposts and settlements in the past, to include the murder of 36 quarry workers just 10 km from Mandera Town in December 2014.
It may be precisely the insecurity and moribund economic conditions that have plagued the region for years that galvanized KeNHA and the Kenyan Government to complete the designs and look for funding for the Garissa-Liboi road. Economic conditions and (in)security are often linked. The prospect of Kenyan security officials and troops manning the border in an organized and coordinated fashion as well as an upsurge in trade and income could go a long ways.A tarmacked road that opens up a viable transportation corridor between Kenya and Somalia may prove useful in stemming the perennial threat from al-Shabaab, not only in northeastern Kenya but throughout the country.