As Kenyan security forces work to ward-off Al-Shabab insurgents, the military operation and the continuing insecurity in Kiunga, a remote border town in the coastal district of Lamu East, are disrupting local livelihoods, residents say.
Major economic activity, including tourism, has been restrained following attacks by Al-Shabab militants from nearby Somalia. Efforts by Kenyan security forces to stamp out Al-Shabab activity have, in turn, adversely impacted the local fishing industry.
Artisanal fishing and tourism together provide a source of income to 90 percent of Lamu’s population of about 100,000 people, according to the Ministry of Planning.
Kiunga is a remote region some 15km from Ras Kamboni in Somalia. Al-Shabab also occasionally sneaks into the villages of Ishakani, Mangai, Mararani, Basuba, Milimani and Mkokoni Island in search of new recruits and food.
In October 2011, after Al-Shabab launched a series of grenade attacks and kidnappings targeted at tourists, Kenyan military forces launched Operation ‘Linda Nchi’ - Swahili for “protect the nation” - to stop the militants from entering the country.
Before the operation, a crew of fishermen split into 20 boats could, together, catch up to three tons of fish a night.
“Each crew produced more than three tons in one night of fishing... Traders lined up for our fish, and the fishing industry employed many people,” said Abdi Abdala, one of the affected fishermen.
This is no longer the case. The military, fishermen say, has imposed a curfew that prevents locals from fishing at night.
“We wonder, why is the government restricting us not to go fishing at night, yet in Somalia fishermen are not restricted?” Yusuf Kitete, a local politician, told IRIN.
“Traders coming to buy fish wait for up to a fortnight to get 800kgs or less, and some return without any fish,” he added.
Tourism and other industries
Fear has also kept tourists away. Before the military operation commenced, increased attacks by Al-Shabab forced major tourist resorts in the area to close. The locals they used to employ were left without jobs.
“Munira Camp [resort] has re-opened, but it does not get foreign visitors and only a few Kenyans visit the camp. The owners of Kiwayu Safari Village [another resort] came here briefly to assess the security, but they left hoping to return after the general elections,” Mohamed Saburi, a fisherman from Mkokoni Village, told IRIN.
Also affected by the operation and Al-Shabab insurgency are members of the Awer, or Boni, ethnic group, who rely largely on selling forest products and honey for their livelihood. They can no longer go into the forests without risking abduction by militants or being labelled Al-Shabab sympathizers by the military.
Al-Shabab has been accused of forcibly recruiting youths as fighters.
“We are hunter-gatherers and our livelihood depended on the forests that are now military fields. We cannot venture into the forests anymore for fear of the militias or [fear of] being branded as members of Al-Shabab if found there by the [Kenyan military],” said Ibrahim Mardi, from Mangai Village.
While the attacks by Al-Shabab have subsided following military intervention in Somalia, residents told IRIN they still live in fear and under restriction.
“People cannot go about their normal business because of fear and government restrictions. We are living in isolation from the rest of Kenyans, as we cannot freely receive visitors or visit other people due to fear of being linked to Al-Shabab. We are at the mercy of the security forces,” Mohamed Alale said.