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NAIROBI, Jun 28 2008 (IPS) - The Kenyan government says Operation Rudi Nyumbani – Return Home in Kiswahili – is almost complete; most of the camps for internally displaced people are closed and the remaining IDPs will be resettled within a week or two. But the hastily implemented programme is being called into question by Kenya’s civil society and human rights activists.
“Only a fraction of IDPs have returned,” says Prisca Kamungi of the Internal Displacement Policy and Advocacy Centre in Nairobi, “And those who have are not able to rebuild their homes or resume normal life as most of them are living in make-shift camps near their farms and the local communities remain hostile and unwelcoming.” (See Q&A: “How Not to Resettle IDPs”.)
Very few people have actually moved back to or been able to rebuild their homes. Instead, the returnees are living in tents they were given when they were moved from the camps, according to Kamungi. In official government jargon, these new clusters of tents, far from the public eye in rural areas, are called Satellite Camps. The U.N. designates them as Transit Camps.
At the peak of the violence, the United Nations Secretary General’s representative on IDPs estimated that there were between 350,000 and 500,000 internally displaced persons. In February 2008, more than 300,000 of them had been registered in 300 camps nationwide. But these statistics provide only a partial picture as it was also estimated by the U.N. that an equal number of IDPs were living with friends and family.
In May, the government decided that as envisaged in the national peace accord brokered by the former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, those living in camps across the Rift Valley and Nairobi should return home. The fact that the planting season begins in May and June was added impetus to resettle small farmers and farm workers before the growing season is lost.
The government has refused to pay any compensation – a source of resentment among the returning IDPs – but it has promised to provide other assistance such as provision of seeds and agricultural implements.
Joyce Njeri, whose family has lived in a camp at the Eldoret Showground for two months, says her family was eager to return home despite the unwelcoming residents and conditions. “But as soon as they reached Sugoi, local youths drove them back saying there cannot be resettlement without amnesty.”
The Kibaki-led grand coalition remains divided on these two issues. Agriculture Minister William Ruto and other Orange Democratic Movement politicians from the Rift Valley are campaigning for amnesty, while the Party of National Unity of President Kibaki is opposed to the idea.
The United Nation’s assessment of Rudi Nyumbani observes that “most farmers with land went back voluntarily, and except for a few well-publicised instances, which were responded to by the government, returns were not coerced per se.”
Kenyan civil society has a more critical verdict. A report released on Jun. 24 by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) finds the government plan deeply flawed.
“While carrying out the resettlement exercise, (the) government has been flouting internationally accepted standards and thresholds that govern resettlement programs globally,” the report says. The commission, an independent body instituted by parliament in 2002, has done case studies of north, south and central parts of Rift Valley – the province worst hit by the violence – as well as Nairobi.
The commission concludes that, with the exception of a few areas, the “exercise has taken the form of…movement from bigger camps to smaller camps in areas near or adjacent to the farms of the displaced persons.”
“There are generally poor living conditions in the new/transitory camps…there is no basic sanitation and water facilties. Humanitarian organisations are now having a new challenge delivering supplies to the many small camps,” says the KNCHR assessment.
Though the report does not allege coerced or forced resettlement, the commissioners note that in some cases the displaced were “induced specifically by officers of the provincial administration” to leave the camps and go home. Those who have returned have not been given enough information on the situation back on the farms.
The commission’s observers also fault the government for pushing through the resettlement process even as “almost in all places visited by the team… no peace meetings were held between different communities ahead of the resettlement exercise. It appears that the government took the approach that peace initiatives will be carried out after the IDPs are settled back to their farms.”
Out of sight, out of mind
Prisca Kamungi of the IDPs Advocacy and Policy Centre says the statistics on IDP returns are exaggerated. She told IPS that the objective of the government’s policy is to clean up Kenya’s image by “pushing the displaced people off the radar.”
Far from signaling that reconciliation is taking place, the closure of the IDP camps is a cosmetic exercise.
“They want to show the world that after the national peace accord the country is back to ‘normal’. The effect of this policy is that rather than living in big camps, the displaced will be scattered around,” says Kamungi.
Ms Kamungi says that because of the international spotlight, the Kibaki government has taken a different approach to that taken by President Daniel Arap Moi’s government in the 1990s.
“In the 1990s, the government of President Moi was able to remove the camps and displaced people through violent means because Kenya was not in the limelight then. One of the consequences of that was more slums in urban areas. This government cannot adopt the same methods but its policy is equally ill-conceived and will bring the same results,” says Kamungi. “When does displacement end? Are those driven out of camps in 1995 and who had nowhere to go other than to the slums still displaced and in need of resettlement?”
The Kenya Human Rights Commission reported that about 300,000 people were displaced in election-related clashes in 1992. In the Rift Valley, the end of the elections was not followed by the return of the displaced to their former land. Rather, those who had camped at market, church and school compounds were violently dispersed.
“In 1994, the Maela camp near Naivasha was burnt to the ground; it had more than 10,000 IDPs from the Narok area,” says Kamungi. Public outcry and extensive media coverage and criticism led to the resettlement of 200 of them in an arid government-owned land near Maela, not to their former fertile lands.
“The others, considered ‘outsiders’, were put in government trucks and dumped at Ndaragwa, Kiriti stadium and Ol Kalau in central province, the ‘ancestral’ homeland of the Kikuyu. They were left stranded; not helped to settle in Central Province. Consequently, a large number of these landless, disenfranchised people found their way into shopping centres, the streets of Nairobi and slum areas.,” says Kamungi, who wrote a report for the Jesuit Refugee Service on the 1992 displacement.
The mode of resettlement has been slightly different in 2008, though the result is much similar.
Kamungi also noted that only those who have no other support system ended up in IDP camps in the first place. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people who had either family members in other areas with the means to support them or the money to establish themselves independently in a new location did not end up in camps. And most of these integrated internally displaced people, as they are known, are excluded from resettlement plans.
Kamungi believes that a comprehensive policy is required to address the long-standing problem of resettling the displaced people, who have been in focus this year only because the violence caught international attention.
Peter Karanja of the National Council of Churches in Kenya, has a different take on Operation Rudi Nyumbani. This exercise, he told IPS, “must be seen in light of the humanitarian situation the IDPs have been subjected to.
“They have been in camps for several months. Some have gone without adequate food, shelter and other basic amenities. The spread of HIV/AIDs has also been reported in the camps. Children were dying due to adverse weather condition,” says Karanja, whose organisation is one of the church groups that were the first to respond to the crisis.
He also notes that this is the planting season in most parts of the Rift Valley where the majority of the IDPs came from. Given the squalid conditions in the camps, he believes prompt resettlement will mitigate their suffering even “as politicians engage in endless controversy over when, how and by whom should the IDPs be settled.”
But Karanja objects to how resettlement has been handled. “The government moved virtually alone without involving other actors. Physical resettlement should have been accompanied by a deliberate and rigorous engagement in a broad process of peace building and reconciliation.”
That goal seems distant as even the major political groups within the government fail to speak with one voice. “Peace building amongst the politicians from both sides is a prerequisite as their conflicting statements are undermining and hindering the return to normalcy,” says Peter Karanja.
Joseph Macharia, who worked as an aid-delivery volunteer with an NGO in a camp in Naivasha, another lakeside Rift Valley town with IDP camps, says that like most other contentious issues the grand coalition is dealing with, the IDPs have become a political football to be kicked around. “The problem is being buried, not resolved. It will re-emerge even if Operation Rudi Nyumbani is officially declared a success and all the camps are closed.”
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