By Abdi Warsame
In the span of a week, I travelled to and from Wajir and Mandera and did not like the experience at airports in both said towns.
In Mandera, upon disembarking from the plane on arrival from Nairobi, we were greeted by a stick wielding Army officer who ‘herded’ us out while directing us to wait our luggage at the main entrance, almost a kilometer away despite the fact that no designated vehicle was available to ferry us there.
The manner in which the officer shouted on top of his voice will suggest that we posed a security threat to the military camp, which seemed to have done us a favor by providing the landing ground, notwithstanding the thorough security checks and screening we underwent at the Wilson Airport from where we began our voyage.
My curiosity to capture the moment nearly landed me in trouble as the hawk-eyed officer reminded me that I was not on tour and that no photos were allowed within the facility, even the infamous selfies.
As I dashed outside, I could not help but sympathize with the elderly, the sick and weak trying to hurriedly step outside at the military officer’s empathy-less instruction.
Minutes later, I made to the luggage waiting area, of course not a designated one, and had to wait for close to thirty minutes for the same to be delivered. When a pickup truck ferrying our luggage arrived, I could not find my bag and was informed some were left behind due to the limited capacity of the vehicle. I had to wait for another trip. It took nearly another half an hour for the remaining bags to be delivered.
As I collected my bag, I reviled the experience given several things irked me, just like the many other passengers, who by the way did not bother complain other than converse in hushed tones against the ill-treatment they received. First of all, such arrival experiences do not even happen in occupied territories or war zones. It is therefore not acceptable in a peaceful and democratic environment in this century. Airports all over the World provide customer friendly services and necessary facilities. While Mandera airstrip only boasts of a gravel covered runway fit for light commercial aircrafts, those traveling to and from the county deserve better treatment than is now provided. Customer care ends with the 500ml bottled water provided inflight, passengers trek for almost a kilometer to access or leave the facility, go through unnecessary security checks and inconveniences and worst of all, are treated like intruders on a heavily fortified facility.
I know military camps are no customer care centers but no doubt both the airline and travelers have paid the necessary government taxes and the body managing Kenyan Airports – KCAA owes us an apology!
I have not used the Garissa facility but I know it shares a lot of similarities with the Mandera one – no terminals, passenger waiting areas and transport within the facility not to mention the restricted access.
I could take heart in the fact that plans were underway to gift Mandera an International airport but my hopes were dashed after learning the project ran into problems after a court suspended its implementation over procurement malpractices.
While Wajir boasts of an International airport, the facility’s location within a military camp also inconveniences travelers given the unfriendly nature of the men in combat gear that greet you on arrival at the gate.
Private vehicles drop travelers near the gate and passenger verification and checks are done outside the main entrance. Cleared passengers are then ferried in and outside the facility using pickup trucks inconveniencing the sick, elderly and people with special needs such as the disabled who find it difficult to board the raised vehicles. You come into contact with KCAA and immigration officials inside the airport, which is the only one in the region that boasts of airport structures and facilities such as tarmacked runway and a terminal.
I know the kind of treatment that forced me to hit the keyboard is not across board and the few big fish in the affected Counties get preferential treatment such as the privilege to be dropped or picked from a convenient area by their official cars, a luxury that common people cannot afford!
Having pointed out the herculean tasks involved in flying to the North Eastern parts of the Country, my request to the concerned authorities such as the KCAA is to stop treating North Eastern air travelers differently and immediately provide the necessary services as per their service charter and international requirements.
If you have experienced this kind of treatment and is not happy, join me in this call to have things improved by dropping a line or two in the comments section below!
The Writer is a concerned resident of North Eastern Kenya. He can be reached at email@example.com