Lamu’s Boni community in dire need of food

Honey farmers of Lamu’s minority Boni community. PHOTO: NATASHA NEMA.

Lamu,KENYA:The Boni minority Community in Lamu is crying foul after the national government stopped a food distribution programme launched shortly after commencement of the Linda Boni security operation inside the Boni forest and neighboring areas.

The operation which was launched in 2015 is meant to flush out Alshabaab militants said to be hiding inside the forest from where they have been conducting attacks on various parts of the county.

When the operation was launched,the national government promised to provide food aid and other humanitarian assistance to the Boni community after all the villages occupied by the Boni become Linda Boni Operation zones.

The affected villages are Bar’goni, Pandanguo, Milimani, Basuba, Mangai, Mararani and Kiangwe,all in Lamu East.

Speaking in Lamu on Tuesday,the villagers said  the community who are traditional hunters and gatherers were unable to venture into the Boni forest which has for decades been their major source of food and livelihood.

They said the community could not also be allowed access to their fresh water rivers located deep inside the Boni forest plunging them into a water shortage crisis.

As such the community was left at the mercy of the Linda Boni Operation personnel who pledged to ensure they are supplied with enough food and water until the operation comes to an end.

However according to members of the community,for several months now the community who are in dire need of food and water have neither received any food nor communication as to why the situation is that way from the Linda Boni Managers in Lamu.

They say they are now faced with acute food and water shortage after the government stopped bringing food aid to them for about seven months now.

According to Ali Gubo who is a Boni elder,they are wondering at whose mercy the government has left them after they (government) intruded and disrupted  their way of life by sealing off the Boni forest from the community.

They now want the government to allow them minimal access to the Boni forest so that they can hunt for food and access water which they said is in plenty owing to the presence of plenty fresh water springs inside the forest.

“They said they would give us food and water and any other help they could for as long as the operation inside the forest is still on.For the last seven months,they haven’t given us a thing.They know we are not farmers.We depended on the forest for food and water.If they don’t want to help us,they should let us back into the forest.We have always had plenty of food and water there.Instead of letting us die of hunger,they should let back to our old lives,”said Gubo.

Residents of Pandanguo,yet another Boni village holding up to 2000 people said they have to walk for over 20 kilometres to Witu in search of water.

Musa Hassan,a village chief says children no longer go to school as they have to accompany their parents on the long treks in search for water in far flung areas.

“The government lied that they would feed us but it seems the little they did was just for show,it was a PR stunt to shut us up.We need help,”said Hassan.

Commenting on the matter,Linda Boni operation director Joseph Kanyiri said the aid plans to the communities have greatly been hindered by constant Alshabaab attacks.

He said the militants have been targeting vehicles transporting the food aid to the affected areas.

He said the Red Cross together with the European Union have however been conducting alternative aid programmes where they send money to the villagers using mobile phones for them to purchase food since the areas are inaccessible.

Kanyiri however said the food distribution programme will kick off once again anytime soon and called for patience and understanding from the villagers.

“The biggest challenge we face in distributing food and other aid to the communities are the Alshabaab who have been planting landmines and IEDs on the way.We have lost many vehicles transporting food due to such.We are however on programme wher they are given money to buy food as we plan on how to restart the food distribution programme,”said Kanyiri.