Mixed fortunes of Operation Linda Boni as locals cry foul
SEE ALSO :Kenya shuts border with Somalia in LamuOperation Linda Boni began in late 2015, covering 13 villages northeastern of Lamu and stretching to the southern part of Garissa County, along Kenyan border with Somalia. A visit by Sunday Standard to Busaba, Milimani, Manga, Mararani and Kiongewe villages in Boni reveals that the operation has restored peace but military sources and villagers say the area is still volatile. Some families that had moved from Basuba, Milimani, Manga, Mararani and Kiongwe to Bargoni, Mpeketoni and Malindi have returned to their homes.
SEE ALSO :The unseen war - Part 2“Anyone who goes past this point must get authorising letters from the OCPD and the military,” says a GSU officer at Milimani roadblock. As we drove the 80km stretch into the thick forest, under the guise of assessing the hunger situation in the five villages, the road was deserted. Locals here are impoverished, lack food and clean water, following ravaging drought and famine.
SEE ALSO :Garissa university massacre revisitedMany locals, including women and children, have been killed by IED explosions. “My 22-year-old daughter, Hau Ali, was killed in December 2015 in an explosion,” says Asha Mohamed, a resident of Milimani. She says five people, four women and a child, died in the same explosion when their car hit a landmine near Junction. The Boni, Sanye and Aweer, which make up the Watta community, live in the Boni Forest. Police say the forest still remains a hiding place for the Jaysh Ayman, a militant wing of Al Shabaab, since mid-2014, when they massacred residents of Mpeketoni. The long war in the area, which was expected to be a swift and decisive defeat against Al Shabaab, has now cut off the communities from the rest of the country. Some villagers say the war has not only isolated them from the rest of the country, but the military ban on the forest has also left them destitute. Ahmed Ijuu, a village elder in Baragoni, says Boni people rely on the forest for their daily food supplies. “The minefields have scared way traders who used to come to sell food and other supplies. We cannot access medical services in Lamu,” says Ijuu. Other than hunting and gathering, these families also depend on food supplies from Lamu and Mpeketoni but the road remains impassable because of the landmines and dusk-to-dawn curfew. Along the road, carcasses of buffaloes and other wild animals that died due to lack of pasture and water also reveal the extent of drought in the area. “If food aid will not arrive then it is just a matter of days before deaths are reported in this area,” says Omar Ali, a former councillor of Basuba ward. Some villagers blame the military operation for their predicament but many support it, saying it has repelled Al Shabaab attacks. The Boni is the smallest of the indigenous communities in Lamu County, with an estimated population of 3,000 people who live in the forest.
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