Mangrove loggers to sue government over ban

Chairperson of the Lamu Mangrove Community Forest Association-CFA Abdulrahman Aboud at his work site. PHOTO: NATASHA NEMA.

Lamu, KENYA: Mangrove loggers in Lamu have given the national government a one-week ultimatum to lift the mangrove cutting ban failure to which they will head to court.

Over 30,000 families depend directly on mangrove trade in Lamu.

The residents are majorly from the Lamu, Manda, Ndau, Kizingitini, Faza, Mkokoni, Kiwayu islands and villages on the Lamu-Somalia border including Kiunga and Ishakani.

In February, the government banned logging in public and community forests for 90 days.

Environment CS Keriako Tobiko, however, extended the ban for another six months in May to allow for the appointment of a new Kenya Forest Service board and also allow for the finalization of the interim reform implementations committee.

However, Lamu communities that have been dependent on mangrove logging for decades have been immensely affected by the ban which directly put a stop to their only source of livelihood.

Many of these communities have been plunged into immense poverty amidst a ban that has also left a trail of broken homes and marriages as women walked out on their husbands who had now been rendered jobless and broke by the ban.

Locals feel the mangrove logging ban is the final nail in the coffin in an area where there is already yet another active night fishing ban that prohibits fishermen from venturing out at night to conduct their trade.

Speaking in Lamu on Monday, the chairperson of the Lamu Mangrove Cutters Association Abdulrahman Aboud accused the government of reneging on its promise to have the ban lifted two months ago.

In September this year, Mohamed Elmi from the Ministry of Environment toured Lamu and promised to expedite measures that would see the ban lifted immediately.

Two months have since gone and the ban is still in existence.

Aboud, however, stated that loggers in the region were no longer going to entertain false promises and that they would mobilize massive demonstrations and later on head to court of the ban isn’t lifted in seven days.

“Every government official who comes to Lamu has made promises to lift the ban but no one did anything. It’s been two months since we were told it would be lifted. The Environment CS must consider us and that’s why we are giving him just one week,” said Aboud.

Locals now say the ban has not only affected loggers but has generally impacted on the architectural progress of buildings in the Lamu old town,a heritage site that was listed by Unesco in 2001.

Many houses that were to be renovated now remain desolate for lack of wood and timber.

Lamu architectural designs all involve the use of mangrove wood that is considered a cultural heritage passed down hundreds of generations.

“Every single building coming up here uses only mangrove wood and nothing else. That’s how this old town was built and that’s how its supposed to stay is at all we talk about preserving the cultural essence of this place. Lamu and mangrove are tied together, one can’t do without the other and so the ban is basically stifling many other sectors,” said Aboud.

Husna Lali, a mother, and wife who inherited the mangrove logging business from his father says many have no alternative livelihood.

Lali says she has been unable to keep her children in school and sufficiently provide for them since the ban was placed.

“We just hope the government will consider the number of people directly affected by the ban and lift it. Its enough punishment that we haven’t done anything for all those months but they need to allow us to go back to our business unless they create alternative jobs for us,” said Lali.