Boni community finally allowed into Boni forest

Displaced Boni residents at a previous function. PHOTO/FILE

Lamu, KENYA: The Boni community,Lamu’s forest community have finally been allowed to venture into the Boni forest after years of being locked out.

The Boni forest had since 2015 been declared a no-go zone by the security office due to the ongoing Linda Boni operation which is being conducted to flush out al Shabaab militants said to be hiding within.

The Bonis occupy the Pandanguo, Bar’goni, Milimani, Basuba, Mangai, Mararani and Kiangwe villages in Lamu East.

The Boni have since then complained and besieged to be allowed back into the forest in vain as the security bosses insisted that there was a need for all residents to stay away from the forest until the operation is over.

The community has for decades depended on the Boni forest for survival where they hunted and gathered their food.

Their shrines are also located inside the Boni forest, making it impossible for the community to engage in their usual prayer rituals since 2015.

The forest is the Boni’s only source of livelihood.

Efforts to have the community adapt to farming as an alternate means of livelihood and also adapt to modernity hit a snag as they remained adamant and insisted they were not meant to farmers but forest people.

Speaking in Lamu on Wednesday, Assistant Inspector General and Police Commander in charge of Operation Linda Boni Douglas Kirocho said no one had been denied access to the forest despite the ongoing security operation and said the community was free to venture in the forest at will.

Kirocho said the government’s primary objective since the onset of the operation has been focused on enhancing livelihoods and provision of adequate security at all times.

He termed as untrue, biased and unfounded, the allegations that the Linda Boni operation had prohibited locals from venturing into the forest.

He noted that in “Locals are allowed to venture into the Boni forest at will and that’s why on many occasions patrol teams participating in the operation have met with cattle herders going about their business deep inside the forest and have not interfered with them.Therefore, the locals are ordinarily allowed to move freely in and out of Boni forest except in rare cases where we feel their safety could be compromised,” said Kirocho.

Kirocho, however, warned locals against venturing further into areas gazetted as conservation areas by the Kenya Forest Service-KFS.

“We have certain places deep inside Boni Forest which are gazetted for conservation. The KFS itself in coordination with area residents is engaged in environmental conservation efforts and have even formed associations to protect the forest. For instance, we have the Witu Community Forest Association. We are grateful to the local communities as they have cooperated very well with security agencies and we appreciate them. I urge them to continue working closely with us for mutual benefits,” said Kirocho.

The sentiments come just days after the Boni community sent an appeal to the government seeking to be allowed access to the Boni forest which they said is a rich haven of food, fresh water and a pertinent part in their general way of life.