2014-08-23
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Kenya's security operation against al-Shabaab disrupts livelihoods

The Guardian
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Al-Shabaab incursions from Somalia, and Kenyan military operations to combat them, are affecting fishing and tourism.

As Kenyan security forces work to ward off al-Shabaab 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-Shabaab insurgents from nearby Somalia. Efforts by the Kenyan security forces to stamp out al-Shabaab activity have, in turn, adversely impacted the local fishing industry.

Artisanal fishing and tourism together provide a source of income to 90% of Lamu's population of about 100,000 people, according to the ministry of planning.

Fishing suffers

Kiunga is a remote region about 15km from Ras Kamboni in Somalia. Al-Shabaab 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-Shabaab launched a series of grenade attacks and kidnappings targeting tourists, Kenyan military forces launched an operation to stop the insurgents from entering the country.

Before the operation, a crew of fishermen split into 20 boats could catch up to three tonnes of fish a night. "Each crew produced more than three tonnes in one night of fishing … Traders lined up for our fish, and the fishing industry employed many people," said Abdi Abdala, one of the fishermen.

This is no longer the case. Fishermen say the military has imposed a curfew that prevents locals from fishing at night. "We wonder, why is the government restricting us from 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 800kg or less, and some return without any fish."

Tourism and other industries

Fear has also kept tourists away. Before the military operation began, increased attacks by al-Shabaab forced tourist resorts in the area to close. The locals they used to employ were left without jobs.

"Munira Camp [resort] has reopened, but it does not get foreign visitors and only a few Kenyans visit. 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," said Mohamed Saburi, a fisherman from Mkokoni village.

Also affected by the operation and the al-Shabaab 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 or being labelled al-Shabaab sympathisers by the military. Al-Shabaab has been accused of forcibly recruiting young people as fighters.

"We are hunter-gatherers and our livelihood depended on the forests that are now military fields. We cannot venture into the forests any more for fear of the militias or [fear of] being branded as members of al-Shabaab if found there by the [Kenyan military]," said Ibrahim Mardi, from Mangai village.

Isolation

While the attacks by al-Shabaab 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 … 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-Shabaab. We are at the mercy of the security forces," Mohamed Alale said.



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