Lamu quarry workers grumble as tycoons grab, fence off sites

Kenney Otieno, a quarry worker shaping building blocks in Lamu's Manda-Maweni village. Quarry workers in Lamu have accused State security agents of colluding with tycoons in the region to forcibly evict them.

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu I Nation Media Group

Quarry workers in Lamu have accused State security agents of colluding with tycoons in the region to forcibly evict them from their sites.

More than 1,000 workers, mostly from Manda-Maweni village, said they are occasionally arrested and branded Al-Shabaab terrorists by security officers.

Manda-Maweni Quarrying Cooperative Society chair Benson Ojuok said they may lose their only source of income as most quarries in the area have been grabbed and fenced off by tycoons with the help of security agencies and local administrators.

Manda-Maweni village was founded by quarry workers in the 1980s and stone mining remains the main occupation of residents.

Initially, miners spent several days at the site working and thereafter went back to their homes. With time, they settled on the island, which has become a major source of building materials with a corresponding increase in its population.

Mr Ojuok urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and ensure the quarries and residents are issued with title deeds for their land.

“We have appealed to the county government several times to conduct surveys so that these quarries and the lands we live on are issued with title deeds but nothing has been done,” he said

He added; “Tycoons, with the help of a few police officers and local administrators, are now eyeing lands here. They have fenced off most of the quarries, thereby denying us access to the sites. Every time we step in those fenced quarries, we are branded terrorists and arrested. We need help to secure our livelihood.”  

Irungu Maina, 68, who has been a quarry worker for 37 years, said they had abandoned most of the quarries because of threats from land grabbers who claim to own the land where the quarries are situated.

More than 20 quarries have been grabbed and fenced off in the area, he said.

“Anytime we try to access them we are told they are private property. Sometimes we have to go through tedious processes just to be allowed into the sites to mine. It’s obvious that in the next few years, our lifelines will be cut. We are calling on the government to intervene,” he said.

An abandoned, grabbed and fenced quarry in Lamu's Manda-Maweni village

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu I Nation Media Group.

Fredrick Oyoo said miners sometimes have to pay some of the grabbers before they are allowed to work at the sites.

Mr Oyoo, who has been a stone miner for 15 years, expressed his worries that the future of their trade is in danger unless the land grabbing is stopped.

“The county and national governments should put in place measures including providing title deeds to protect these lands from grabbers,” he said.

“Let them list all quarries as public lands. They should also provide a block title deed to protect the quarries from the grabbers, mostly tycoons.”

Jackson Mwiti, the Manda-Maweni Quarrying and Cooperative Society secretary, said it has become difficult for the stone mining business to expand.

Elizabeth Wamboi, a stone miner who has been in the trade for 40 years, accused chiefs and their assistants of being at the forefront in frustrating quarry workers.

She called on the government to investigate the chiefs.

“If you walk around this village, you will realise there are so many abandoned and fenced quarries. If you go there to work, you are charged with trespassing. We need a solution,” she said.

Contacted for comment on the quarry workers’ grievances, Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia acknowledged that land feuds were rampant on Manda Island.

But he dismissed claims that security and local administrators are involved in land matters in Lamu.

“Private individuals have been complaining that people are encroaching on their lands at Manda-Maweni but the matter is under investigation,” he said.

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