A LOUD SILENCE

The death of activism in Lamu?

Activism in Lamu was at its peak between the years 2000 and 2020

In Summary

• Many activists have since plunged into politics, compromising their position as the people’s mouthpiece

• Other activists cited constant threats to their lives as reasons why they are no longer active 

Activists lead protests in Lamu island last year
Activists lead protests in Lamu island last year
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES

The last few years have seen Lamu record fewer and fewer instances of activism, leaving the community without a voice to speak against societal ills and injustices.

The greatest concern is the fear that crimes and injustices may spike, seeing as there is no one who seems bothered anymore.

Lamu county continues to grapple with many historical injustices, top on the list being the issue of land ownership, marginalisation of some communities and inequitable distribution of resources.

These are among the many factors that gave rise to activism in the county from around 2000 to 2020, when the activities were at their peak.

Lamu Island would, for instance, not go for a week or a month before hosting several demonstrations orchestrated by activists for various reasons, ranging from demands for better state services to resisting state policies and projects which the community felt were questionable.

The advent of the Lamu port project was among reasons why activist voices rang loudest in the region, especially after it became apparent that Lapsset would affect the community and the environment.

It was such voices that were behind the recent Sh1.76 billion compensation to Lamu fishermen due to the adverse effects brought about by the dredging activities for construction of the Lamu port.

All these were the efforts of activists who instigated legal proceedings on the matter, leading to the May 2018 Malindi High Court judgement that awarded 4,734 Lamu fishermen a Sh1.76 billion compensation package.

Activists lead protests in Lamu island in 2022
Activists lead protests in Lamu island in 2022
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES

COURT SUCCESS

This was after the activists argued that the fishermen would no longer be able to carry on with their venture due to dredging activities, adding that their livelihoods would suffer eternally and, as such, deserved compensation to enable them to pursue alternative livelihoods.

The fishermen have received a cash compensation of Sh250,000 per individual.

In February 2015, activists in the county enabled the Sh.1.3 billion compensation of locals whose lands had been acquired for the Lamu port from the national government.

It is the efforts of activists that led to the cancellation of a bid to establish a Sh200 billion coal processing plant in Lamu.

They argued that such a project would be harmful to the health of locals and the environment, and was thus unsuitable for the region.

Following their efforts, the National Environment Tribunal cancelled the licence of the concerned company and declared that the project would not happen.

Despite the massive contributions made activists in Lamu county, the silence over the last few years has not gone unnoticed.

Veteran activist Mohamed Mbwana said the situation was partly due to the deaths of renowned and outspoken activists like Abubakar Mohamed Al-Amudy, Abubakar Khatib, Mwalimu Badi and Profesa Ali Shekue.

Al-Amudy died in 2020, aged 70.

Activists lead protests in Lamu island in 2018.
Activists lead protests in Lamu island in 2018.
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES

Until his death, he was the founder and chairperson of all activist organisations under the umbrella body of Save Lamu.

Mbwana on his part, though old and frail, says he remains an activist at heart.

He however admits that activism in the region is slowly dying, and whatever little that remains has no strength as before.

“I was among the first batch of activists from around 2000. Many of those we started with have since transitioned. Their deaths dealt a huge blow to activism in Lamu. That's why it’s almost nonexistent,” he said.

He said most other pioneer activists are old like him and thus cannot do much.

Raya Famau, a notable female activist in Lamu, said many have given up after they saw no changes in whatever they were advocating for or against, yet they were risking their lives for it.

She said many other activists have since plunged into politics, compromising their position as the people’s mouthpiece.

“Most of them have joined politics or have become politically enmeshed with certain politicians. This compromises their judgement as they can’t speak out when the same politics needs to be rebuked,”she said.

Famau, who is currently the executive officer for the Lamu Women Alliance-LAWA, says even the few remaining activists are in it for personal gain.

“Let it be known that true activism calls for selflessness, which means no one is going to pay you. I think that’s among the reasons why many quit,” she says.

OUT OF FASHION?

The younger generation has notably kept off activism, leaving it all to the veterans.

Lamu elder Ali Athman wonders who will do the work once the veterans are all gone, seeing as the youth want nothing to do with ‘a payless job’.

“The biggest reward for any activist is seeing the changes you fought for take effect and impact people positively,” he said.

“That is more than any money can buy. The current generation is however lazy and cowardly. They are into drugs and have no time for activism.”

Salim Omar, a younger activist, says he had to choose between pursuing it and fending for his family, and settled for his family.

“I'm still an activist at heart, only that I have no time to go to the streets and do anything. I have a wife and six kids to fend for,” he said.

Other activists cited constant threats to their lives as reasons why they are no longer active activists.

Ahmed Alwy says the lack of sponsorships is also a reason why activism is on its deathbed as it requires money to run campaigns.

“If you want, for instance, to defend someone through the courts, you will need money for a lawyer,” Alwy said.

“You need money to move around the courts until the determination is made. Many activists don’t have that money.”

Others quit activism after making enough money from it, Alwy said.

Activists lead protests in Lamu island in 2021.
Activists lead protests in Lamu island in 2021.
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES
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