Freedom of residence guaranteed by international law

In recent years, a dangerous line of thought has emerged in Kenya where free movement of ethnic groups is under threat.

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State – Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The post election violence of early 2008 resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being evicted from their homes and farms. Migrant families were told, often violently, that they do not belong and they should return, ‘from where they came from.’

Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) became popular in the Rift Valley and Coast provinces largely by promising Majimbo, a form of ethnic based federalism. Though the concept of federalism may be noble, the term “Majimbo” in Kenyan politics has a very specific meaning regarding the creation of ethnic enclaves.

The word Majimbo was first used in the 1960s because Kenya was a federal state back then but the manner in which the word has been used since the 1990s has often heralded brutal attacks against ethnic groups that settled outside their homelands.

Supporters of Majimbo argue migration takes up jobs, resources and opportunities that could benefit local people. Due to rampant unemployment and attendant economic hardships afflicting Kenya’s growing population, migrant settlers are easy targets for political leaders seeking votes.

Supposing ODM had scored a decisive victory during the 2007 elections? Would they have implemented a Majimbo constitution along ethnic lines?

Well, according to international law, stopping individuals from freely moving and settling across the country is tantamount to crimes against humanity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says in Article 13 that:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.”

During the 2007 electoral campaigns, former Cabinet Minister, Dr Amukoya Anangwe said that if ODM won the polls, industry would be moved from Nairobi to the rural areas. “Only people from that location will be employed in those factories,” said Dr Anangwe.

If such plans are enacted, they would violate Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states thus:

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The tendency of politicians to blame migrant ethnic groups for economic difficulties has worsened ethnic tension in Kenya and ordinary people are starting to believe these messages. More people are convinced that their living standards will improve if only they can take over what immigrant communities currently own.

Experience and observation shows that ethnic exclusivity does not create wealth. Instead, it breeds worse poverty. The most prosperous parts of Kenya are ethnically mixed and this includes Nairobi and its environs, Mombasa, Trans Nzoia and the Central Rift Valley towns of Nakuru and Eldoret. Clearly, there is a relationship between multi-ethnicity and prosperity.

The United States is racially, ethnically and religiously mixed. Anybody is free to migrate and settle in the United States. The result is a confluence of ideas never before seen in world history.

Did you know that Chinese and Indian migrants play a major role in big software names like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and Silicon Valley? Did you know that the US military absorbs recruits from all over the world?

A climate of acceptance, tolerance and co-operation between races, ethnic groups and religions is the way forward. The rest of the world is embracing these attributes and reaping the benefits. Kenya seems to be moving in the opposite direction and the effects are obvious for all to see.

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