Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Population

RIGHTS-KENYA: Rethinking 'Return Home'

Najum Mushtaq

NAIROBI, Sep 14 2008 (IPS) - The most urgent test of the grand coalition in Kenya is resettlement of the estimated 350,000 or so people made homeless by the violence after the December 2007 elections. Launched in May, the government's Operation 'Return Home' has been riddled with flaws and many experts on internal displacement argue it has exacerbated the crisis rather than resolving it.

Official admission of the multiple failures of Operation Rudi Nyumbani, as the plan is known in Kiswahili, has come from one of the deputy prime ministers, Uhuru Kenyatta, who was sent by President Kibaki to visit some resettlement sites earlier this month.

At a transitional camp in Gitwamba, in Trans-Nzoia district, a surprised Kenyatta said, "(Provincial) administrators had convinced the president that the resettlement programme was almost complete, yet thousands of people are still living in camps."

Kenyatta's comment underlines the government’s insensitivity which Keffa Magenyi, national coordinator of the Kenya IDP Network, identifies as one of the major flaws of Operation Return Home.

"The idea behind Operation Rudi Nyumbani – that those forcibly displaced, most of them very poor, should go back to their homes and farms rather than getting resettled elsewhere – was in accordance with the spirit and intent of the national reconciliation process," Magenyi told IPS. "But it lacked strategic planning, coordination and consultation with the IDPs."

Magenyi is himself a displaced person. On four different occasions since 1993, he has seen his home torched and family members killed or forced to flee to camps by political violence in the Rift Valley. Four months into Operation Rudi Nyumbani, they are still waiting to go home.

"There was no data mapping," observes Magenyi, "Where the IDPs had come from and where they should go. No data or census of the displaced people either. There are simple and effective methods of doing it. The government also did not use the data that was available with different organisations like the Kenya Red Cross. They used their own criteria."

The government criteria, based on proof of land ownership, meant that several IDP groups, such as small traders, farm workers and other people without land, remained unacknowledged or outside the resettlement and compensation plan.

There were no clear deadlines for the various phases of the operation, just a political imperative to be seen to act. A lack of coordination between a special ministry set up for resettlement, working from the office of the president, and provincial administrations actually tasked to implement the plan also led to haphazard management.

So most of the camps are officially closed and most of the IDPs ticked as returned home; but the overwhelming majority have only been moved to camps somewhere else. The very few who have gone back face an unwelcoming, sometime hostile, response from their erstwhile tormentors.

Magenyi, whose network is collecting data from IDPs across the country, estimates that 15 percent of them are still in the original camps, 45 percent are now integrated IDPs (those living with relatives or in other rural and urban host communities of their co-ethnics, segregated along ethnic lines) and the remaining 40 percent have officially gone back, but are actually living in transit camps.

On Sep. 3, the government launched its compensation plan for returning IDPs at one of those transit camps. The ceremony in the Rift Valley town of Molo came to a premature end, however, as about 5000 IDP protesters surrounded the officials, challenged the authenticity of the lists drawn up by the government and refused to take the money.

Angry youth demanded that government officials explain why it took so long to come to the camps with the compensation plan and that too with dubious lists. An IDP representative in Molo, Philip Kamau, questions the provincial administration’s beneficiary lists, which blocks out hundreds of genuine victims of post-election violence. The protesters forced the officials to withdraw the list and agree to make a new one.

On Sep. 9, protesting IDPs blocked the Eldoret-Nairobi highway and police had to use force to break up their demonstration against delayed payments, unreliable beneficiary lists and the lack of security. Dozens were reported to be injured.

The haphazard resettlement has also broken hundreds of families, who have been forced to leave children behind in camps. In the Rift Valley district of Molo, one of the main IDP camp sites, a Unicef report last month identified 1,752 cases of children separated from their families. The report also counted 850-900 child-headed households in Molo district.

"There must be many more in other camps. And it's because Operation Rudi Nyumbani did not take into account the fact that there are IDP children who need to go to school but there is not enough security in the host communities they are returning to," says Jacqueline Klopp, a founding member of the Nairobi-based Internal Displacement Policy and Advocacy Centre and a professor at New York's Columbia University.

Klopp sees not only a lack of consultation with the IDPs but also a lack of respect for them. "If you are an IDP, it means you are poor, stigmatised and you are a problem. It is not so. These displaced people are teachers, traders, skilled people who are citizens of this country.

"They are talented, capable people who have organised themselves. They say (to the government), 'Come talk to us. We'll tell you who can go back, which areas are safe for return and which are not, who among the IDPs do not want to go back, what are the alternatives.' But the government has not done that," Klopp told IPS.

Dangers of politicisation

A recent conclave of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the party of Prime Minister Raila Odinga sharing power with President Mwai Kibaki, was embroiled in lengthy debates over what members of parliament from the Rift Valley should get in return for supporting Odinga.

Also on the agenda was a demand for amnesty for the 'boys' arrested for crimes during post-election violence in January and February 2008. "No resettlement without amnesty" is a slogan being used by communities resisting the return of IDPs.

Under pressure, Odinga reiterated his support for amnesty, eliciting criticism from his partners in the grand coalition.

A number of ODM MPs and ministers have been blamed for mobilising the campaign of violence both in reports by civil society and during the hearings of the Waki commission of inquiry into post-election violence.

But the arrests extend beyond ODM supporters. Hundreds of pro-Kibaki Kikuyu youth are also behind bars for attacks. There are significant numbers of IDPs from a wide number of ethnic groups including Kalenjins, Kissis, Luos and Luhiyas.

"The violence and displacement in 2008 is different (from those in the 1990s). This time the IDPs include not the Kikuyus only, but also many other tribes. It is a cross-ethnic national issue," says Magenyi of the IDP Network, who believes ODM cannot continue to isolate the issue amnesty for its supporters from the overall resettlement and reconciliation plan.

"The issue of amnesty for the arrested youth is being raised to divert attention away from the real culprits. The debate on whether to grant amnesty should start at the other end. It ought to be focused on the powerful politicians who had used those young boys to unleash the violence."

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