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Lamu residents oppose closure of Kenya-Somalia border

They say they have been coexisting well with the other side, trade, families bound to be affected

In Summary

• Lamu residents read malice in government's decision to close border. 

• Traders distance themselves from claims of human and drug trafficking across the border. 

The recent closure of the Lamu-Somalia border is most unwelcome to residents. 

For decades, these two sides have co-existed for reasons ranging from trade, medical attention and even social events like marriages.

The tiff between Kenya and Somali escalated further this week after the security department announced the closure of the border at Lamu and subsequently banned residents at the border villages including Kiunga, Ishakani and Ras Kamboni from engaging in any cross-boundary trade and other activities.

The announcement that the border was now closed off to all civilian activity has been met with shock and disbelief for residents who are now asking how carry out activities without the other side.

Pregnant women and children will suffer the most.

For the longest time, women and children from Ras Kamboni and nearby areas have had to cross over into Kenya’s Kiunga health centre, the only medical facility on the border for crucial medical services like prenatal care and immunisation.

The border residents would also benefit from the numerous free medical camps organised by the Kenya Defense Forces. 

Residents who spoke on Friday, however, criticised the move saying it was likely to lead to economic and social disputes.

Abdalla Baabad, who is the MCA for the border ward of Kiunga in Lamu East, said the closure of the border was absolutely unnecessary considering the affected areas are already facing other challenges like the lack of medical facilities and schools.

“I have personally received hundreds of complaints since the announcement was made. Was there no other way to do this? What happens to these women and children whose only source of medical attention has now been put off? The government needs to reconsider, ”  Baabad said.                                                                                                                                          

The social lives of border residents also stand to suffer as a majority have inter-married with either side.

Kiunga resident Ali Fankupi, who married from Ras Kamboni in Somalia, says he is still shocked by border closure.

He says he is in a dilemma as he has close relatives in Somalia. 

“I have in-laws in Ras Kamboni because my wife is from there. My daughters are also married there. The situation is the same for many other people here. You can't just declare a border closed, there is so much that needs to be put into consideration first. Families are bound to break," he said. 

Traders on the border have also distanced themselves from allegations of human and drug trafficking as indicated by police.

They have also opposed the ban on cross-border trade saying the government wasn’t being genuine in the real reason why they want the border closed.

Trader Suleiman Bunu, who owns several businesses in Kiunga, says they are willing to undergo any form of vetting to rule out any suspicious activity.

“They can’t say they are closing the border because of illegal trade because that’s a lie. If they have any other concerns for that move, let them be true with us instead of playing the victim. What they are doing is totally unfair, if they suspect anything, let them vet all of us here but allow us to continue trading,” Bunu said.

Another trader Fatma Shee said, “With the kind of surveillance in this area, I don’t understand how they can claim any illegal thing is happening. I think there is more to this." 

Edited by R.Wamochie