Gamba & Marembo, Tana River County, Kenya –
Kenya’s President William Ruto’s recent visit to Gamba village in Tana River County took an unexpected turn when his helicopter was forced to change landing sites due to al-Shabaab-related security concerns. The initial destination was deemed unsafe, so the aircraft carrying Kenya’s Head of State had to land at Marembo Primary School, approximately 12 kilometres away.
The school’s proximity to the dense Boni forest, known for al-Shabaab’s movement, made the landing site a designated security operation area. The initial landing place, Gamba village, had already experienced an al-Shabaab attack. Nine years ago, the militants killed at least 29 people in Gamba and another village called Hindi in Lamu County.
During his visit, President Ruto expressed gratitude for the safe landing and interacted with the Marembo school’s staff and villagers. He emphasized the need to recognize challenges and pledged support, gifting KES 1 million to the school for renovations and security improvements.
President Ruto’s encounter with security challenges experienced by locals on a daily basis can only be hoped to serve as a wake-up call. The region’s proximity to the troubled Boni Forest leaves them exposed to future attacks by the extremist group. The visit is expected to underscore the importance of boosting security in the area in order to achieve sustainable growth and development in the Tana Delta.
Boni Forest: The militants’ safe haven
The Boni Forest, situated near Kenya’s border with Somalia, has become a notorious hotbed of al-Shabaab activity. The dense forest’s secluded terrain provides an ideal hideout for the extremist group, allowing them to carry out their operations with relative impunity. Over the years, the region has witnessed multiple attacks on nearby villages and towns by al-Shabaab, resulting in significant security concerns for Kenyan authorities and local communities.
Within the past few years, the militants’ activity has been high in the region. Kenya’s security officials lost lives, and some were left badly injured in confrontations with al-Shabaab within the dense forest. In August 2018, five Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers were killed and six others badly injured after their lorry ran over an improvised explosive device (IED) during a patrol in the forest. Equally, members of the extremist groups have been hunted down on several occasions in the forest, indicating al-Shabaab’s durable presence in the region.