Anger among IDPs will cause instability

Anger among hundreds of thousands of internal refugees from this year’s political and ethnic clashes could develop into deep discontent as the Kenyan government bungles their fate.

With an estimated half a million internally displaced persons (IDPs), political analysts fear that dissatisfaction among such a huge pool of people could be the seed for future instability in Kenya. Groups such as the colonial era Mau Mau and, more recently, the Mungiki developed out of deep frustration with the state.

Tangible discontent among communities affected by violence is due to the government’s forcible closure of internal refugee camps. Refugees from ethnic and political clashes who had been camping in markets, police stations and stadiums have been forcefully returned to their homes. The Eldoret showground camp, said to be among the last remaining refugee centre, is expected to be closed in coming days. Other major camps in Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha, Kisumu, Kakamega and Kitale have all been closed.

There have been violent demonstrations as refugees refuse to be moved to their villages. IDPs say that ethnic tension is still high in their former homes and that its not safe to return. Several cases of returning refugees being attacked have been reported in Kenyan media. There are also rumors that some refugees have been kidnapped in the Rift Valley by ethnic militias.

Due to fear, majority of people evicted from the bigger camps have built new but smaller camps near their former villages. The new camps, called satellite camps, lack clean water, toilets and schools. Most receive little food supplies and refugees have turned to stone age type of hunter-gathering. Prostitution is endemic in such circumstances, while children rummage through dump sites for at least a morsel of food.

Critics say the Kenyan government wanted to close the big camps as they were becoming a national embarrassment. Meanwhile, the government is putting pressure on private landowners to close the camps they have been hosting in places such as Limuru.

The government pledged to give each of the refugees Shs10,000 (US$147) to help them rebuild. Apart from describing the Shs10,000 government grant as inconsequential, IDPs cite fraud in the exercise. It has been reported that individuals masquerading as IDPs have gotten a share of the funds.

IDPs are angered by government claims that resistance to leave the camps is due to dependency syndrome. Since clashes broke out last December, refugees have received rations from the government and relief agencies. The IDPs say that life in refugee camps is not a luxury and they had decent homes and farms before violence ruined their lives.

With little sign that the government is taking their plight seriously, groups of IDPs have pooled together and began life afresh. In Naivasha, IDPs used their Shs10,000 to buy a collective farm in Mai-Mahiu where they are putting up homes. Many of the Rift Valley IDPs are vowing never to return to their former villages after being victims in each election year since 1992. They had been hopeful that the end of the Moi presidency in 2003 would herald lasting peace but have now given up.

As has so often been said in the past, President Mwai Kibaki has a tendency of shooting himself in the foot. Its incomprehensible why a sane government would treat hundreds of thousands of its citizens in such a brutal manner. Majority of IDPs happen to come from ethnic groups that supported the president and they expected greater sympathy from the government. During the height of the clashes, the IDPs found themselves with nobody to protect them. Today, they are treated like vagabonds, subject to insult and possibly doing jail time for demonstrating against the camp closures.

Ironically, their persecutors on the opposite side of the ethnic divide seem to be doing quite well. They have taken over land and property left by the fleeing IDPs. One woman from an IDP camp who went back to her home, found neighbors wearing her dresses. In some places, schools and villages have been renamed by the new occupants in an attempt to erase the ethnic identity of those who were evicted.

IDPs have been made to take the blame for their calamity. Several months ago, during a tour by European diplomats based in Nairobi, the IDPs were told to, “learn how to live well with their neighbours.”

Political scientists say that the long-term consequences of the IDP issue are likely to be grave. Its not advisable for any government to deliberately induce widespread hate among 500,000 people. Having gone through hell, and with nothing more to loose, these people provide fertile grounds for an uprising. At the very least, you are likely to witness growing civil disobedience as seen through almost-daily demonstrations. The government has been unleashing brutal riot police against people who are widely believed to have voted for the incumbent president.

The Mau Mau movement of the 1950s grew from hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu, evicted from their land to make room for British settlers. The Mungiki phenomenon started in the 1980s when the Kikuyu felt persecuted by the administration of Daniel arap Moi. Mungiki became much stronger in the 1990s when the Kikuyu were targetted for ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley.

Today’s IDP saga could be the beginning of another movement on similar lines. It remains to be seen whether a new socio-political movement among the Kikuyu will achieve what the Mau Mau and Mungiki failed to achieve. One thing is certain though: we have not seen the last of violence in Kenya.


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