Lamu pastoralists protest harassment during security operations

Lamu pastoralist spokesperson Muhumed Kalmei addressing residents during a meeting at the Mokowe Complex in Lamu County.

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu I Nation Media Group

Security agencies in Lamu County have denied unfairly targeting pastoralist communities in the war against terrorism in the region.

Some locals have complained about constant harassment from security agencies that felt they were either terrorists or were harbouring suspected terrorists.

Through their spokesperson, Muhumed Kalmei, the pastoralists from Koreni, Mkunumbi, Pangani, Lumshi, Chalaluma, Witu, Boni forest and surrounding areas also said security officers accused them of holding illegal weapons and asking them to surrender the guns.

Mr Kalmei said herders have always lived in fear because of raids conducted by security agencies and the frisking of villagers in the search for terrorists and illegal weapons.

“As the herder community, we’re concerned about the behaviour of security agencies. We’re innocent but every time the security sees us, they view us as enemies. We’re always targeted in the war on terror,” Mr Kalmei said.

“We’re even worried now about carrying simple weapons like knives and clubs while looking after our cattle in the bushes as is our tradition just for fear of being arrested and linked to criminals.”

Mr Hassan Abdi questioned why security agencies seem to miss Al-Shabaab terrorists in possible hiding places like the Boni forest and instead searched for them in herder villages.

Mr Abdi claimed security agencies have made it a habit of raiding villages in the middle of the night and searching for weapons and terrorists.

“We are not comfortable with all these. It’s unfair. A year hardly passes without our village being raided by either the police or KDF in the middle of the night in search of terrorists and guns,” he said.

“Let them fight terrorism but shouldn’t target us. We aren’t terrorists and neither do we harbour them. These night raids are scary and uncomfortable.”

Mr Yusuf Abdulrahman said the treatment villagers have received from soldiers, especially during Operation Amani Boni, had dissuaded many from approaching security forces with crucial information for fear of victimisation.

“How can you approach someone with the intention to share information at a time when they already view you as a criminal?” posed Mr Abdulrahman.

But Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia denied the accusations.

Mr Macharia advised herders, particularly those entering Lamu from other counties, to ensure they follow due processes, including registering with local administrators.

“There has been no victimisation or harassment of pastoralists by our security agencies as alleged. All this is done to ensure there’s peaceful coexistence here,” he said.