Kenya: IRIN Focus on displaced people in Rift Valley

NAIROBI, 11 November (IRIN) - Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi this week called on thousands of displaced people in the country's Rift Valley province to return to their homes and continue with their normal lives, a move that has been met with scepticism some quarters.
Following all-out clashes in the province in 1992 between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin groups, and a smaller resurgence in 1998, thousands of displaced people are still living in fear of returning to their original homes because of insecurity.

Human rights activists, NGOs and religious organisations working in the area blame "inflammatory statements" by politicians for fuelling the clashes, caused by land disputes and the expulsion of mainly Kikuyu people alleged not be to indigenous to Rift Valley province.

Moi, who was addressing a gathering in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru on Monday, reassured the displaced that "maximum security" would be ensured so that the problems did not recur, Kenyan media reports said. He directed provincial and district commissioners in the affected areas to "ensure that this programme of resettlement in the families' original farms is effected within a week".

Moi further told politicians to ensure that "their utterances were not inflammatory", saying that conflicts in the region had been ignited by "careless leaders who issued emotive statements without assessing their destructive potential".

However, human rights activists and religious organisations in the area are sceptical, and have adopted a "wait and see" stance. The Kenya Human Rights Commission's (KHRC) Management Coordinator, James Nduko, described the president's comments as "non-committal". "Without a firm commitment, it remains just his usual one-touch statements or ideas which are never followed up," he told IRIN.

Nduko expressed doubt over the "practicability" of Moi's directive, since no logistical arrangements had been made to help the families. "We are waiting to see if anything is going to happen within this week as he said."

KHRC's Programmes Officer Njuguna Mutahi asked where the displaced people were supposed to return to. "Their lands were occupied by their assailants who forced them out," he pointed out. "These are people who saw their neighbours hack their loved ones, raze their houses and farms...their lives were shattered." He added that the chances of violence erupting again were "quite high".

"This call is a political gimmick because considering the extent of the damage and destruction of property of the victims, rehabilitating them cannot be done by one institution," Mutahi said. "It needs an amalgamated approach which includes all stakeholders like the religious groups and the NGOs."

An official of the Catholic Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Commission pointed out that the land in one of the affected areas, Enoosupukia, was nationalised in 1993 and that some of the displaced in another affected area Olenguruoni - who were given land elsewhere - were told by the government to surrender the title deeds of their original land. "How are they going to go back without their title deeds?" she asked. "We want the government to shed some light on how this resettlement is going to be done."

She acknowledged that people wanted to return to their land. "The communities have realised, through the peace and reconciliation process, that they need each other since one is an agriculture-based community and the other is pastoral," she explained. "They still fear that incitement could recur and that since the same administrative officers are still in charge, there are no security guarantees." Four days after the president's directive, there was no sign of anything happening, she told IRIN on Thursday.

According to 1998 figures from the commission - which provides school fees and food assistance to displaced people - the number of displaced families in the province stood around 2,040.

Meanwhile, the Office of the President said some "official activity" was underway on the ground. "Of course there could be logistical problems in getting these people to return from wherever they sought refuge, but it is a presidential directive that has to be implemented," an official told IRIN. He however agreed that the situation in the region was "fluid".

The land issue is very sensitive, the official said, and until the process was undertaken "one cannot know what to expect". "But you can be sure trespassers who are occupying land illegally will have to go," he added.


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