The Displacement and Dispossession of the Aweer (Boni) Community: The Kenya Government dilemma on the new Port of Lamu

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Kenya
1° 34' 26.832" S, 41° 22' 25.5216" E
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The Displacement and Dispossession of the Aweer (Boni) Community: The Kenya Government dilemma on the new Port of Lamu

The Aweer community, also referred to as Boni, is one of the indigenous communities in Lamu County, the site of the second sea port of Kenya whose implementation has been shrouded in secrecy and suspicion. The Lamu Port Project is a transport and infrastructure project in Kenya that when complete will be the country's second transport corridor. The project involves a port; a railway line; a road network; oil pipelines; oil refinery, three airports and three resort cities. The government objectives of the ‘development’ include improving livelihoods of over 15 million people in marginalized regions of the country. However, there are many issues of governance, land tenure and ownership, social equity, cross-border security, technical capacity, and management on the national level that needed to be sorted out before embarking on such an ambitious infrastructural plan facilitating foreign capital penetration.

The Boni are hunter-gatherers primarily living off the forest resources and are the smallest of the indigenous communities of Lamu whose number is currently estimated at less than 3,000 individuals. The Boni, whose lives and livelihoods are interwoven with the forest landscape of the Boni-Dodori ecosystem, stand in the frontline of the consequences of any environmental destruction that may result from the development of the new Port. It is estimated that over 70% of the land currently occupied by the Boni in Lamu county will be taken up by the new port. They have occupied customarily-held land for over one thousand years and have been considered "squatters" without legal standing to advance their social and economic aspirations. They have been denied resource rights in the gazetted reserves despite these rights being provided for by law. For example, community members that live and gather fruits and honey in Dodori National Reserve are harassed by the wildlife management officials and often arrested and prosecuted.

In the recent years, the entire region has been a prime target for irregular, illegal, and extra-legal acquisition of land by speculators targeting the proposed Lamu Port project area. It is alleged that at least 100,000 hectares of land in the area was in the hands of speculators. Besides, the development is likely to spur further massive land grabbing by corrupt elites and add fuel to the growing militancy over insecure land rights, insecurity, and economic disenfranchisement in Lamu. Rumours of allocations to state elites, high-ranking civil servants, and tycoons are rife. Large tracts of land in the Tana Delta and adjacent areas of Lamu district are also part of the stakes.

This paper is based on an on-going research that is aimed at establishing and documenting the extent of displacement of Lamu communities, particularly the minority Boni, by the development of the new Port of Lamu with a view to recommending policy measures that may contribute towards the amelioration of the problem.

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