Conflict in giant cabinet over refugees

Cracks emerged in Kenya’s giant cabinet yesterday as politicians wrangled over the prospects of return for hundreds of thousands of Kenyans displaced by electoral violence.

Members of Parliament from the Rift Valley elected on the ODM party of Prime Minister Raila Odinga rejected calls for a speedy return of displaced persons to their homes. The Prime Minister and President Mwai Kibaki had called on the MPs to facilitate the process by talking to their people, the Kalenjin.

The Kalenjin MPs tabled their own demands which, they say, should be addressed before internal refugees can return to their homes. Among these were a cessation of military activities against the Sabaot Land Defence Force in Mt Elgon where accusations of torture by military units are rife. The MPs want Kalenjin evicted from the Mau Forest restored to their settlements. Youths arrested for participating in ethnic clashes should be released, demanded the MPs, and criminal charges dropped.

Meanwhile, MPs from Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group want resettlement of internal refugees implemented as quickly as possible. The MPs argue that the Kalenjin sold land to the Kikuyu on a willing-seller willing-buyer basis and therefore cannot take it back without compensation. The MPs, led by Laikipia East MP, Mwangi Kiunjuri, wondered why Kalenjin MPs were bringing up issues not related to the refugee crisis since the Mt Elgon situation is not an election-related crisis (troubles in Mt Elgon began in 2006 – a year before disputed polls in December 2007).

Several weeks ago, before the military operation in Mt Elgon, Kalenjin MPs had called on the government to negotiate with the Sabaot Land Defence Force and incorportate its members into the national army. The state rejected these demands saying it would encourage other groups to fight for similar deals. The Sabaot are a sub-tribe of the Kalenjin hence the sympathy from Kalenjin MPs.

Election related violence in January this year assumed an ethnic dimension when the Kalenjin, who were supporting Raila, evicted the Kikuyu (President Kibaki’s ethnic group) from the Rift Valley. The Kalenjin accuse the Kikuyu of usurping their land though the Kikuyu mostly bought land from the Kalenjin and from departing white farmers decades ago.

The violence caused 1,500 deaths and left 350,000 people homeless. Initially, the Kikuyu bore the brunt of the violence but reprisals against the Kalenjin and Raila’s Luo ethnic group worsened the violence. In late January, international mediation led by Koffi Annan brought both Raila and Kibaki into a giant coalition that was named this month.

One Response

  1. This article reminds me of the dark days of our country. Can you imagine 44 ministers. That was a big joke

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