Christians Face New Threat Along the Boni Forest in Kenya
08/14/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On July 12, 2019, in the Maleli village of Kenya’s Lamu County, Benson Karisa Shida, a Christian crop farmer, was attacked by the nomadic Orma herders who are a predominantly Muslim sect. Before the attack, he got into a squabble with the herders because their cattle fed on his maize crops. Benson tried to vacate the group and their cattle; however, he was outnumbered as there were approximately 50 herdsmen with numerous cattle. They refused to leave, beat Benson, and allowed their cattle to eat all the maize Benson was anticipating to harvest in two months.
In addition to losing his land, Benson sustained head injuries from the attack. While speaking to International Christian Concern (ICC), he said, “I was the only one on the farm during the incident and that’s why they took advantage of destroying my crops. I wondered why they left other areas with grass to bring their cattle to the maize plantations in the village. Lately, we have been having constant conflicts with them especially since they are Muslim nomadic herdsmen and we are Christian farmers engaged in crop production.”
Herder-farmer conflicts are now the new form of Christian persecution in Lamu. These conflicts are beginning to manifest only two years after al-Shabaab militants took refuge in the Boni Forest and killed over 15 Christian farmers who settled in the fertile belt along the dense and rainy forest. The 2017 al-Shabaab attacks led to the displacement of numerous villagers. Benson and his family were among the group of more than 200 families that were internally displaced and resettled with the Katsaka Kairo settlement scheme.
“For two years now, we have not been able to get enough out of the farms we left behind in 2017 after the Somali militants killed many of us.”
“For two years now, we have not been able to get enough out of the farms we left behind in 2017 after the Somali militants killed many of us. Due to the security threat, we go to the farms during the day and return to the government settlement in the evening,” Benson shared. “Eventually, we end up wasting a lot of time commuting, resulting in low productivity. Sometimes, wild animals invade and destroy our crops. It has not been easy. The Orma people, who resemble the Somalis – although are related to the Oromo people of Ethiopia – scare us a lot because, they also collaborate with the al-Shabaab to kill us.”
Earlier in the year, another survivor of the 2017 attack, Katana Nyati, went through a similar ordeal with the Orma herdsmen. Thankfully, he did not sustain any injuries. Nevertheless, while speaking to ICC, he said, “In February, my farm was destroyed in the same manner. The herders do this intentionally and when they are asked, they claim that Allah gave them the belt along the Boni Forest as grazing zones for their livestock. I managed to run and escape from them for they pursued me, armed with machetes.”
At the time of the interview, Benson had received treatment and police were investigating the matter.
“I am glad that the police are pursuing the case after I registered a statement with them. Although there are minimal chances of getting compensation, I am hopeful that the herders will fear and respect our farms that the government allocated to us so that we can coexist peacefully. I will be saddened if my involvement with the police escalates the conflict because many of us might be targeted and killed,” Benson concluded.
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