Kenya's displaced left in limbo

20 SEP 2013 00:00 BERTHA KANG'ONG'OI

She sits across the room in the small shanty, gazing above our heads, perhaps at the ceiling, or at the glossy picture of Jesus hanging behind us, in a flowing white gown, the Lord's Prayer flowing across his frock. Or maybe she is looking at the president's red and white campaign flag fixed to the wall, next to Jesus.

Even when Martha Gathoni (19) looks straight at us, she seems to stare through us. It has been way too long for her, this hoping and waiting, with promise after promise from government officials, priests, nongovernmental organisation workers, and other Good Samaritans.

They arrive at the camp with smiles and assurances, and then disappear, never to be seen again.

"Everybody has been trying to take advantage of us," reflects Gathoni. "People show up, take down our names and listen to our stories, promise to help - and then we never see them again."

As the International Criminal Court at The Hague begins the trials of the alleged instigators of the violence that claimed 1113 lives after Kenya's 2007 presidential elections, many of those who were forced to flee their neighbourhoods and villages are still waiting. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, are among the three men indicted, creating an unprecedented situation at the ICC and a cause célèbre within the country.

But while eyes turn to the televised proceedings, it seems as though the nation's attention is drawn further from the more than 7000 families still stuck in deplorable camps.

It has been five years since Gathoni's father died. The family was still at a temporary camp, near the shores of Lake Nakuru, to where hundreds of families like hers fled the violence, perpetuated by gangs of youth armed with machetes and other ad hoc weapons.

Gathoni breaks down when she talks of her father's death. To her, his death marks the beginning of all the pain that she has had to endure. It should have been a sanctuary, a new beginning. He led his family safely away from the violence, but a heart attack took his life after they arrived at a temporary shelter.

As the new head of the family, Gathoni's mother has wagered everything on the government's promise to resettle each of the families on just under a hectare of land a short distance away in a town called Subukia, though a lawsuit over the ownership of that land could jeopardise the deal. Gathoni's mother is so fearful of losing the plot to squatters, she stays there to protect it. Guarding her plot means she can't return to her own work as a mechanic. She does odd jobs around Subukia, but it's a pitiable income.

Perhaps unbeknown to Gathoni and to the thousands of displaced families at the time, former President Mwai Kibaki, after forming a coalition government, had set up a special committee to look into the issue of internally displaced people (IDPs), and to resettle them in 2008. Billions of shillings were set aside and, if all had gone as planned, Gathoni and family would already be resettled, either back to their farm in Keringet, or in an ­alternative location.

But all that political theatre seems quite distant from the reality here in Nakuru.

After the death of their father, Gathoni's sister quickly recognised that continuing with school was near impossible. She got ­married - at just 13.

"We do not even know who she married, or where they live," confesses Gathoni. "We've heard that she has two children now."

That first committee commissioned by the president accomplished little. Money started to go missing. Some provincial administrators were reportedly cooking numbers and inventing ghost IDPs.

IDPs, real or imaginary, first received a payment of 10000 Kenyan shilling (Ksh) (R1123) per household to help them to "rebuild'"their lives. In a wise move, 966 families at the Nakuru showground camp pooled the money and bought an 11-hectare plot of land, enough for each family to construct a simple shelter, better than the inhuman conditions of the showground, but far from the land of promise. The area, a few kilometres from Nakuru, is known as Pipeline, but they call it "New Canaan".

Gathoni's family is one of the 966. She had just completed primary school and was offered a scholarship to a nearby high school. But by the end of that first year in high school, it was clear that the organisation that had promised to pay her fees would not honour its word. She was kicked out of school.

She attempted suicide.

"I really wanted to become a surgeon," she says through her tears. "If only I could get just one more chance to go back to high school and graduate."

The reality is that, two years after she was kicked out of high school, she got pregnant and delivered a baby boy. There is no father in sight. Gathoni alone cares for her now one-year-old son and two other children, a boy, eight, and a girl, six, whom a family friend bequeathed to Gathoni's family on her death bed.

Five years since the violence that scarred the Rift Valley, two committees set up by the former president have each been disbanded and, a monumental Ksh6.1-billion later, Gathoni still has little that she can count on. Different arms of government point the blame at one another, and such is the lack of transparency, even the auditor general cannot confidently say where much of the money has ended up. In the end, only about 24% of the people displaced in the 2007-2008 post-election violence have been settled, according to official 2011 records.

The new government, championed by Uhuru Kenyatta of the National Alliance party (TNA) and William Ruto of the United Republican Party (URP), the grouping that won the March general election, received unreserved support from the IDP community, especially in the Rift Valley. One of the promises of the "jubilee coalition", as the TNA and URP merger is known, was to settle all the IDPs affected by the post-election violence within the first 100 days in office.

It's been more than 100 days. But in calculated timing, just a few days ago and before the trial of Ruto began at The Hague, he and the president visited an IDP camp in Naivasha and pledged even more money - Ksh400 000 per unsettled household.

It's hard to tell exactly why, after five years and billions of shillings allocated and disbursed to IDPs, the last of the IDPs has not been resettled. It's even harder to tell where the buck should stop. Money has been misappropriated, that's a fact, though only a few small-time administrators have faced investigation, and it is not clear what has come of the charges raised.

A report, done in April last year by a parliamentary committee, was not able to account fully for all the money. The one thing that was clear was that there was gross misappropriation of funds in the whole IDP resettlement scheme, from the very beginning of the exercise in 2008.

While Gathoni waits for "those in Nairobi" to deliver on the promise of giving her some part of her life back, she makes about Ksh100 a day from doing manual jobs on nearby farms. All she can afford is to buy enough food for herself and the three ­children to eat one day at a time.