"I am a Refugee in My Own Country": Conflict-Induced Internal Displacement in Kenya



Internal displacement in Kenya is a complex and multi-faceted social problem that re-volves around and reflects unresolved issues of land and property, as well as the struggle for the control of political and economic resources. These intricate and sensitive issues, manifested in ethnic conflict, violent cattle raids, and government evictions characterised by human rights abuses have displaced people throughout the country. While the different displacement situations are distinct, they share common trends, and any effort to address them requires a holistic understanding of the political history of Kenya as well as the socio-economic and cultural dynamics of affected communities.

Natural disasters, such as floods and drought, also cause displacement in Kenya, however this report focuses almost exclusively on conflict-induced displacement. While the work of humanitarian agencies and the government to address the situation of people displaced by natural disasters is indeed worth recognition, the overall response and information on conflict-induced IDPs is negligible compared to the response and information available on people displaced by the drought or floods. This difference in response and accessible in-formation highlights the highly politicised nature in which conflict-induced displacement is viewed and presents the need for robust engagement from international and local institutions and organisations on the plight of conflict-induced IDPs. Attempting to define or describe the profile of IDPs in Kenya is highly contentious. In May 2006, the UN estimated that various forms of conflict have displaced 431,1531 people in Kenya, however this estimate should be treated with caution as it excludes recent dis-placement, and is partially based on a 2002 UN IDP survey which has not been updated. Nevertheless, research for this report reveals that due to a prevailing lack of security and protection for conflict-induced IDPs, the majority of IDPs are either unable or unwilling to return. This unwillingness to return is also due to the absence of a clear strategy to ad-dress the underlying causes of conflict. Moreover, with continued conflict and evictions taking place throughout the country, it is likely that the above figure holds a certain degree of accuracy and thus the various IDP situations in Kenya necessitate an immediate re-sponse from both the government and the international community.

To further complicate matters, in a number of relatively major displacement situations, different sources provide different estimates for the number of people affected, illustrating the lack of a sustained country-wide system to collect accurate and reliable information on conflict-induced IDPs. Most of the attention and memory related to conflict and displacement focuses on events during Kenya's transition to multiparty politics in the 1990s. However, clashes along eth-nic lines, largely a result of political infighting over resources and instigation by local politicians seeking to secure their positions, continues to cause displacement in the Rift Valley. Ethnic tensions have also been exacerbated by government-initiated evictions based on recommendations from the Ndung'u Report. The Report, issued in 2004, is a 1 UNOCHA, Internal Report, May 2006, product of a government commission initiated to investigate illegal and irregularly allo-cated public land. While many of the report's recommendations and findings are positive, most of them have not yet been implemented. The only tangible government reaction to the Ndung'u Report has been to carry out evictions in a manner which is contrary to the pro-cedures detailed in the Report. The evictions have been politicised and carried out with violence and human rights abuses, and caused the forced displacement of thousands of people across Kenya. Northern Kenya is a situation unto itself.

The region, inhabited by pastoralists, continues to be marginalised and underdeveloped. Recurrent drought has resulted in inter-communal conflict over watering points and grazing areas, and with the proliferation of small arms in the Horn of Africa region, cattle rustling has become increasingly violent. Both the drought and conflict have caused migration into urban and peri-urban areas, yet the pro-tection and assistance needs of those displaced by conflict often remain neglected as there is no sustained institutional mechanism to address needs of the conflict-affected popula-tion. A virtual absence of actors addressing the root causes of internal displacement has pro-tracted a number of specific IDP situations and left glaring assistance and protection needs unfulfilled. In Central Province, roughly 3,000 IDPs remain encamped in Kieni For-est and are denied their rights to adequate shelter and freedom of movement, and endure abuse from forest authorities. Classified as a "humanitarian crisis" by the Special Rap-porteur on Adequate Housing in 2004, the conditions in Kieni Forest remain bleak despite the government's efforts to provide humanitarian assistance. Pledges of attention and assistance to conflict-induced IDPs by the government have not yet yielded tangible benefits for the majority of IDPs.

While a number of specific govern-ment initiatives on IDPs have been carried out, they are uncoordinated and illustrate a lack of political will to provide IDPs with protection and assistance. Moreover, the gov-ernment's approach to IDPs is linked to land ownership - the government has attempted to determine "genuine" IDPs by requiring that they show proof of land ownership. Owning land is not a defining factor of displacement and thus should not be a prerequisite for be-ing acknowledged as an IDP or qualifying for assistance. Overall, the government contin-ues to lack an institutional framework to address conflict-induced displacement, and on many occasions the government has denied the existence of IDPs in Kenya. The international response to conflict-induced IDPs closely follows the government re-sponse. Assistance is often only provided during emergencies, and is thus largely ad-hoc and inconsistent. An ongoing system to determine pockets of need does not exist. Despite the UN's commitment to address IDP issues, its response thus far has been largely fixated on people displaced by natural disasters. Like the government, the UN also lacks a system or focal point to respond to and address the needs of people displaced by conflict or hu-man rights abuses, and a number of UN programmes on conflict and disaster make no ref-erence to IDPs. Generally, all actors in Kenya evidenced a lack of knowledge on IDPs and their rights.

Considering the politicised nature of displacement in Kenya, and with the upcoming 2007 general elections, the possibility of increased violence and subsequent displacement is real and likely, evidencing the need for strong engagement to ensure that civilians are pro-tected from arbitrary displacement and that IDPs are provided with protection and assis-tance. Kenya's long-term peace and security is at stake, failure to immediately address the IDP situation in a comprehensive manner raises the possibility for continued violence and prolonged conflict over land and property.