Festering wound of IDPs needs definite closure, not cover-up

Over 600,000 people internally displaced in the 2007-08 PEV, 300,000 considered 'integrated' but continue to suffer

In Summary

• It's time to do the right thing. Instead of being angered by memory of the PEV, it might benefit the President to reflect on whether it isn’t better to review the  implementation of the 2012 law. 

• He might find it isn’t such a big deal to 'revisit' the forgotten IDPs and provide due finality assistance. No country should be afraid to confront its dark past .

The IDPs who are demanding compensation address the media at Ol Kalou
'NOT PAID': The IDPs who are demanding compensation address the media at Ol Kalou

In January 2013, over 100 Internally Displaced Persons families in Pipeline camp, Nakuru county, threatened not to vote in the March 4, 2013, election unless they were resettled before polling day.

Earlier, in December 2011, IDPs camped at the Nakuru county commissioner's office demanding resettlement before Christmas after a failed attempt to settle on a farm in Subukia. Are they settled this ninth Christmas since their protest? Has justice been served to post-election violence IDPs 13 years later?

I know President Uhuru Kenyatta is given to fits of uncontrollable display of temper in public, especially where he’s wronged. The latest was an attempt by DCI George Kinoti to revive simmering claims by 2007-8 PEV fiasco IDPs.

The President’s response was an immediate, harsh rebuke accompanied by threat of damnation for reviving  a whiff of that painful episode in Kenya’s dark history. The reaction implied criminalising talk of IDPs as a taboo subject.

But the genie is out of the bottle. Although we’re tempted to sweep the IDPs' embarrassing dirt under the carpet, lack of resolution will dodge us forever.

I understand Uhuru's anger: It’s a painful flashback to the instant that dragged him to the ICC on charges of facilitating crimes against humanity (population displacement); forced him into a now-tumultuous coalition marriage with Deputy President William Ruto; and was a grim reminder that the resettlement and compensation project executed from 2014 to 2016 was not  conclusive after all.

The then Dynamic Duo sought to bury the ghost of enmity between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, the key protagonist communities in the 2007-08 mayhem. Reopening this sore at a time when the relationship between the duo has gone south is poking at wounds that were not healed by a badly executed but very expensive IDPs resolution project.

But hurting the President’s feelings aside, one can’t bury festering ethnic animosity and active feelings of wrong forever. History is replete with recurring identity conflicts whose underlying cause is the desire for justice for a perceived wrong.

In a comprehensive analysis, 'National Response to Internal Displacement: Achievements, Challenges and Lessons from Kenya', Prisca Kamungi elegantly sums up the reality we must face and dilemma facing the President.

"Identity-based politics and contested land rights are the cause and consequence of cycles of displacement in multi-ethnic regions. The relationship between political affiliation, ethnic identity and land ownership form the basis for contestation, whereby members of ethnic groups associated with rival political opinion are labelled ‘outsiders’ and violently ejected from their farms.” No portrayal better fits the Rift as an active inter-ethnic volcano.

At the heart of the sensitive IDPs issue is what the Uhuruto IDPs project glossed over: commandeered properties that were never returned to legal owners.

Though communities outwardly appear reconciled, it’s only a temporary truce brokered by the Uhuruto political union. Otherwise, the issue of forced eviction and failure to account for victims' property is a another festering sore. And the victims' voice is muzzled by subtle fear of repeat violence and evictions.

Just as its memory got the president worked up, it requires just a little spark to set off a conflagration in Rift Valley. Time has not healed wounds between victims and perpetrators who both live with the uncertainty of about properties. This means the longer the country continues to cower in search of a solution, the more bitter the end will be.

At least this what Robert Waweru cautions against in his University of Nairobi study of 'Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons in Kenya: A Case Study of Rongai, Nakuru County, in 2008-2016.'

Waweru records that the IDPs' compensation and resettlement processes faced a myriad bottlenecks that ranged from corruption by government implementing officials to unmet expectations of the target beneficiaries.

Though a report revealed massive divergences from stated objectives of the project, government decided to play dumb about discrimination and inadequate compensation, less than what was promised.

Then there is the recurring issue of the neglect of 'integrated' IDPs who had temporarily sought refuge in familial communities. In an article, 'Kenya’s Forgotten IDPs' published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in 2013, Lilian Ochieng recounts that more than 600,000 people fled and lost their homes during the bloodshed.

It also cost 1,300 lives after the disputed presidential election in December 2007.

Of these, 300,000 took refuge with relatives, in towns and churches. They were officially categorised as "integrated" IDPs, the majority in then Nyanza and Western provinces.

These are people who fled barefoot leaving behind businesses, homes and land. Since they were 'integrated' IDPs, they were not part of the 300,000 who were registered as displaced. These 'lucky' 300,000 were accommodated in camps and received compensation of Sh10,000 and for lost property such as homes; land and businesses were worth Sh25,000.

Listening to those who gathered recently at DCI, their identity was an unmistaken mixture of both displaced groups. In the aftermath of the violence, the Mwai Kibaki government attempted a haphazard compensation process that encountered headwinds in allegations of major corruption.

The government was accused of favouring one ethnic group over others, an accusation inherited by the Jubilee government of 2013.

Many thought the suffering of discriminated against IDPs would be alleviated by the new Prevention, Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and Affected Communities Act, 2012. It established a fund, mandated the government's  legal responsibility to create a comprehensive IDPs database and uniform criteria for dealing with IDPs.

As they campaigned, Uhuruto were unrelenting in promising compensation and resettlement. Interestingly, by end of 2016, just about a year to the 2017 elections, the government was still making commitments to resettle IDPs.

In April of 2016, a Cabinet statement issued in Naivasha spoke of Treasury being directed to set aside funds to offset the “nightmare” of IDPs. Earlier in in January 2016, a march to State House by IDPs from Nyandarua county was intercepted and dispersed in Naivasha.

Instead of being angered by the memory of the PEV, it might benefit the President to reflect on whether it isn’t better to review the implementation of the 2012 law in the heady days of his first term.

He might just find it isn’t such a big deal to 'revisit' the forgotten IDPs and provide due finality assistance. No country should be afraid to confront its dark past unless it intends to stoke the embers and reopen wounds. Cowering from or covering up is postponing a fatal deluge in the future.

And it isn’t for lack tools for action. In October 2009, the Ministry of Lands produced 'Evictions and Resettlement Guidelines', outlining safeguards against arbitrary eviction or dislocation of populations.

The National Land Policy (2009) recommends measures to protect the rights of both informal settlers and land owners from forced evictions. The Constitution also provides a comprehensive Bill of Rights, including the prevention of arbitrary displacement.

Then the Ministry of Justice, the National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs body, in collaboration with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights , developed the draft National Policy on Human Rights (2010). It recognises IDPs as a human rights concern and obliges the government to domesticate and implement the Great Lakes Protocol on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons. The protocol commits member states to “prevent and eliminate the root causes of displacement".

And in the September 2018 issue of the International Journal of Social Work and Human Services, Emily A. Okuto of Africa Nazarene University provides a roadmap in 'The Strategies of Government and Nongovernmental Actors in the Resettlement and Reintegration of IDPs in Eldoret, Kenya'.

In this festive season, I wish there could emerge political will to do the right thing by IDPs.