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Kenya – Lamu’s Centuries-Old Way of Life in Danger of Being Bulldozed in the Name of Development




Lamu, close to Kenya’s border with Somalia, is a largely unspoilt tropical island paradise, a Unesco World Heritage Site and Kenya’s oldest continuously-inhabited town, established in the early 1300s. Now the entire area, and especially the mainland farmers, finds itself under threat from a massive new development.

The four farmers are waiting beneath a tree when we arrive. It is February, which means that it is almost time for the rainy season in Kenya and they have started the process of clearing the land for planting. It is uncomfortably humid in Lamu County where we are, but beneath the tree, one of the region’s majestic baobabs, a light breeze cools us. The farmers practise a form of subsistence agriculture called slash-and-burn – a traditional method of clearing wild areas to plant crops – and, on our journey from Mokowe to meet them, we have passed the occasional controlled fire, which family groups are using to clear the coastal bush.

We have also passed abandoned homesteads which have belonged to these farming families for many generations. The farmers have since fled onto nearby islands due to terrorism threats from al-Shabaab insurgents. North of us is the Somalian border and the armed…

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