Kenya: IDPs struggle to rebuild their lives

NAKURU, 30 September 2008 (IRIN) - The decision to close camps for Kenyans displaced by post-election violence was hasty and has left thousands in Rift Valley Province stranded at transit camps or yet to fully resettle on their farms, according to activists.

"Despite most of the displaced leaving the camps to go to their farms or to transit camps, we haven't achieved the peace we wanted," Mark Mwithaga, a member of the Nakuru District peace committee, said.

Nakuru, the Rift Valley provincial headquarters, is one area that bore the brunt of the violence.

"Hate, bitterness and disgruntlement have set in," he told a UN delegation on 25 September.

In May, the government ordered the IDP camps closed upon the conclusion of Operation "Rudi Nyumbani" (Return Home) that targeted hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Rift Valley.

Two other operations, "Ujirani Mwema" (Good neighbourliness) and "Tujenge Pamoja" (Let's Build Together) were subsequently started in an effort to reintegrate the displaced to their original homesteads or in new areas of resettlement.

At least 200,000 people in the province were affected by the violence, according to Hassan Noor Hassan, the Provincial Commissioner.

"We started 'Ujirani Mwema' after the displaced returned to their homes and this has, to some extent, gone well to cement and bond different communities together," Hassan said.

"We are now in the reconstruction phase, which we are calling 'Tujenge Pamoja' under which we are encouraging the communities to rebuild their lives together; we want all the displaced to move out of camps into their homes."

However, he acknowledged that many IDPs had remained in camps and some may possibly not be able to return to their homes or farms.

"Most of the IDPs remaining in camps do not own land," Hassan explained. "The majority lived in urban areas where they rented houses. The situation has been compounded by the urban poor, some of whom have moved to camps in order to get help."

Some of the IDPs, who received the government's Ksh10,000 (US$150) resettlement aid, have pooled together to purchase land in areas other than their place of origin.

"We are encouraging those who can pool together to buy land and urging the UN and other charitable groups to help such people in putting up the infrastructure required - sanitation facilities, health services, education and other social needs," Hassan said.

"The government is also looking at the issue of the displaced who had bank loans and could not service them during their displacement; we are looking at how to assist these people," he added.

"Negative peace"

Peace activists say many of the IDPs were still traumatised and without assistance - a situation described by Samson Ndungu, a member of the Nakuru peace committee, as "negative peace".

"As we walk around encouraging the communities to reconcile, we find that people are still traumatised; our task is like that of someone consoling the bereaved yet the body of their loved one is still in the morgue and the family is looking for means and ways of giving the dead a decent burial," Ndungu told IRIN.

"This is because there has not been any serious follow-up by the government of those who left the camps."

Many of the displaced and non-displaced communities also lacked civic education and were "not well informed about political issues or things like governance and land policy".

Ndungu warned that unless the issues of land and political governance were addressed, the prevailing calm was deceptive. "All it needs is a spark and chaos will erupt, this time more explosive than what was experienced earlier in the year," Ndungu said.

Political will

Aeneas Chuma, the UN Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator, called for political will to resolve the challenge of resettling the IDPs.

"Although peace and reconciliation are possible, there has to be political will and an inclusive approach in this process," he said in Eldoret, another Rift Valley town adversely affected by the violence.

"Everybody has a role to play," he added. "We also need to recognise efforts by the communities themselves to foster peace and healing; these traditional and local solutions to conflict resolution need to be recognised and to complement other efforts already in use."

Wesley Chebii, the Uasin Gishu district coordinator of UN peace-building volunteers, said communities were warming to one another in areas like Burnt Forest and Sugoi, where volunteers were engaged in reconciliation activities.

"We have opted for on-the-ground coverage in Burnt Forest area and we are making inroads; the two main communities there are now willing to sit down and discuss what happened to chart the way forward."


Humanitarian workers in the North Rift region, however, said thousands of the displaced were still housed in at least 140 transit camps.

"Although there has been a marked improvement in security in the areas of return, those in transit camps still require support," an official of an NGO, who requested anonymity, said.

"We can say that return in safety and dignity [has been] partly achieved, but a lot still needs to be done to ensure that these people rebuild their lives."

Peace and reconciliation efforts at community level were being hampered by a lack of willingness by displaced and non-displaced communities "to come to the dialogue table", the official added.

"The main challenge for the government and UN agencies is that the IDP issue is still with us - their security, provision of social services in the transit camps [and] in areas of return, peace-building and helping people recover livelihoods," Chuma said.