Operation “Go Home” begins amidst apprehension

Kenya’s government yesterday launched an operation to drive internal refugees back home despite fears of fresh attacks due to inter-ethnic hostility.

“Operation Rudi Nyumbani” (Operation Go Home) was launched yesterday in Molo by the Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner. Dozens of Army trucks and government buses were packed with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people on their way home. Here, the mostly Kikuyu refugees were evicted from their farms in Molo by their Kalenjin neighbours following disputed elections in December 2007. However, the refugees still fear for their safety since few of their neighbours have been arrested over the violent clashes that left many dead and homes burnt.

The government has built additional police stations to provide security to returning refugees.

In the neighbouring town of Nakuru, people camping at the Afraha Stadium are also staying put. Here, the camp consists mostly of Luo, Luhya, Kisii and Kalenjin people evicted by the Kikuyu in revenge attacks. Most of them had moved to the Nakuru and Naivasha area decades ago and have virtually no attachment to their ancestral homelands in Nyanza and Western provinces. Indeed, many refugees who fled to their homelands are now languishing in poverty.

The refugees at Afraha Stadium are still not convinced its safe to return to their homes in Nakuru and Naivasha despite government assurances over their safety.

At the same time, Kikuyu refugees at the Nakuru and Eldoret showgrounds are also reluctant to return to their farms within the Rift Valley for fear of further attacks. “The people who killed our husbands, wives and children are still there, how can we go back?” they ask.

The Kenyan government wants to close refugee camps in order to return the country to a semblance of normalcy. The government fears that refugee camps could soon become hotbeds of dissatisfaction. President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, was criticized for doing little to protect his community from attacks by the Kalenjin and is eager to reassure the Kikuyu that he is working to restore their property rights.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a Luo, who got a huge block vote from the Kalenjin during the 2007 General Elections may however find himself in a dilemma. The Kalenjin do not want the Kikuyu back but at the same time, Odinga wishes to gain the trust of the Kikuyu. The Kikuyu constitute almost 25% of Kenya’s population. Mr Odinga’s son, Fidel Castro, is engaged to marry a Kikuyu woman.

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