By Antony Gitonga
Smoke rises lazily from the thatched house whose mud walls are falling apart exposing the occupants to vagaries of the weather.
Children who are semi-naked and bare-footed with protruding tummies troop from the hut screaming and shouting as they play oblivious the problems afflicting their families. A few metres away is a deep forest – the Boni-Dodori Forest. The monotony of the minors’ screams is cut short by a passing plane, which is quickly replaced by the chirping of birds from the nearby trees.
A distance away inside the forest, the sound of power saws which ends with the heavy boom of trees crushing to the ground is heard.
A visit into this forest in Lamu County reveals huge tracks of land on fire some freshly set on fire while others are still smouldering.
In Mangai village, which borders the forest, two classrooms serve as the school for dozens of students who cannot afford uniform or shoes.
In one of the classes, 15 bare-footed students seat on the floor reciting the alphabets after a colleague standing in for the teacher. The students say it’s a month since they saw a teacher.
With an estimated population of about 5,000 people, the Boni community, which lives around this forest, is among the endangered communities in the country.
Hunger, high poverty levels, illiteracy and insecurity are the norm for this community.
The community, which depends on hunting and gathering, is under threat of being ejected from their home. Speculators have started eying for their land and forest as clearing of mangroves in preparation for the construction of the Port of Lamu in Magogoni starts.
Mangai village headman Mr Cheka Mohammed admits that they are still living in the past.
Mohamed, who is a Kenya Police Reservist, says their problems date back to the 1960s when Shiftas from the nearby Somalia attacked them at will.