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Kenya, A journey of displaced people from the highlands to the lakeside

NEWS

A journey of displaced people from the highlands to the lakeside

Story by LUCY HANNAN
Publication Date: 2/16/2008

Ms LUCY HANNAN, a television and print journalist, accompanied a convoy of displaced people from Tigoni in Kiambu District to Kisumu between February 9 and 11. The convoy drove through Naivasha, Nakuru, Mau Summit and Kericho. She gives her first-hand account.

Internally displaced families board a bus to transport them to western Kenya. Photo/PHOEBE OKALL

Thousands of displaced Kenyans are on the move. The movement has continued during the “wait and see” period of the Kofi Annan-led mediation.

Most of those moving are seeking safety in their ancestral homes where they left many years ago. In many of the towns I passed through, ethnic segregation has effectively been completed. There is a new phase of aggression which is less overt but bold and uncompromising: Armed gangs patrol urban and rural areas, issuing threats and maintaining segregation. 

People displaced in Central Province and have ancestral links in western Kenya are moving west. Those displaced in western region are moving towards central Kenya and Nairobi. 

Trucks piled high with furniture and household possessions characterise traffic flow on all parts of the route, most concentrated around Nakuru, Kericho and Kisumu. 

Yet major camps for the displaced have not emptied, indicating the population shift is massive and continuous. Costs and logistics are inhibiting movement of the poorest and fear of attacks and reprisals have not reduced despite the recent calm.

The Nakuru showground, which is housing mainly people from central Kenya and the Afraha stadium which is home to communities from western region, were still full last Sunday even as new arrivals continued to swell the numbers. 

Arson and threats

We met Richard Maiko who had been waiting for three days on the side of the road with his household goods hoping to get transport to Kisii: “I live in Baraka estate, which is mixed, where there have been problems of burning and threats since the time of elections? I am married to a lady from Rift Valley and thought I was okay. There are gangs of youths in the estate who move around looking for people from particular communities. Three days ago, they came to my house and said to my face: we don’t want to see you here, and we don’t want to hear about being married to our woman. Leave or die.”

There is a politicisation of transportation and assistance for the displaced. ODM groups and individuals are assisting people from western to move; with donated buses and trucks, and funds raised from allied diaspora groups. Displaced people from central Kenya are pursuing promises by the Government to rebuild or move.

Andrew Muturi, heading a group of displaced people in Kisumu town, said “we are in dialogue with the DC, and have been offered a subsidy, we are making a claim for rebuilding. We have received no money but have been told it will take 7-21 days.”

He lives in Kondele Police Station and runs the gauntlet through town to the DC’s office in an atmosphere of threat. Last Friday, a man was beaten to death in Kisumu town. Muturi says there is a case of a patient driven out of hospital, and believes he no longer has access to the bank. 

There is tangible bitterness from displaced populations that the “other side” variously receives more assistance or sympathy.

In Kisumu, this directly affects humanitarian assistance, with political divisions and accusations of partiality between NGOs. In the present climate in Kisumu, the Red Cross, for example, is considered government-allied. All arrivals are being taken to St Stephens Church run by a local NGO, church and diaspora groups, despite better Red Cross resources and capacity. 

Heavy rain has exacerbated poor conditions for the displaced – many sit on plastic chairs all night in wet areas. There are problems with separated children, trauma, hunger, property loss, sickness – particularly respiratory diseases and diarrhoea as a result of long periods in police stations and previous camps. A small number say they have no “home” to go to. 

Kisumu town is in a critical transition stage and has imminent potential to become ungovernable. 

The Government and the security forces have lost legitimacy and respect. Mr Raila Odinga and ODM have apparent ubiquitous support. Post-election violence has been through different stages: first, protest rioting and the targeting of businesses and property; next, ethnically-directed retaliation attacks; then, focusing on economic privilege or “discrimination” within the local community itself. 

It has now entered a “wait and expect” period. There is a widespread belief among the population that “mediation and negotiation” means coming to the decision that Mr Odinga must be given what he was denied — the presidency. The process of mediation, at the moment, is considered legitimate and just: but time is likely to be a factor. Like the delay of the election results – which triggered the first round of violence in Kisumu – delays over reaching an agreement could have the same effect. In such a case, the local political class will also lose credibility and legitimacy.

There have been threats against some property owned by some politicians if they are seen to “betray or delay”. 

“Stolen votes” and security force killings are a general preoccupation across the board. The Government is generally held in contempt; and security forces are unable or unwilling to carry out their work, despite public fear of gangs and criminals who have moved into fill the vacuum. 

Security forces attempting to impose any sort of control or authority – like dismantling road blocks or shooting criminals – is seen as State repression, or political dissent. Bringing murder charges against the policeman filmed shooting two young men dead appears to have made no difference to this perception.

Mr Ajulu, a businessman living in Polyview estate said: “We have organised our own security groups and patrol night and day. There were gangs who said they were looking for particular communities, but they would just identify an affluent-looking house, demand entrance, and then take what they could get. We had to actually fight these gangs ? I now have three machetes in my house … We have become a target. It has been difficult at times for people like me to drive a vehicle, cars have been taken? for example, from town centre to Kisani there are about six road blocks and when things are bad you get charged about Sh100 at each, harassed and threatened.” 

A young boda boda rider who has manned road blocks and demonstrated said: “We are waiting for Tuesday to hear the results of the talks. If Raila is not President, we will fight… We will kill each other.” 

Returning migrant labourers are now forced to live with families that they were previously supporting. It is a “poor impoverishing poor” scenario.

A tea picker in Tigoni, Limuru, for example, gets paid about Sh5 a kilogramme, sending home about Sh2,000 to Sh3,000 a month to an unemployed extended family. 

A high population of western migrant workers resided in Central province because Nyanza is a consuming rather than producing region, with poor economic indices. Nyanza migrants were described as an “under class” typically without property, credit facilities, job security or education. They are returning empty-handed. Many had lived for decades in Central Province and Nairobi, with a secondary, nominal relationship to their ancestral land. 

There is nervousness among the Kisumu population what the impact of this influx will be.

“They are coming to depend on us and we can’t afford it. We struggle, and they will struggle for what little is here, so we will be struggling among ourselves,” said one of the residents.

Resentment for this is put in a political context: underdevelopment in Nyanza is perceived as deliberate economic and political marginalisation and the failure of the Government to give the local people “our turn”. 

It would seem necessary to devise a practical strategy to explain the mediation and power sharing process in Kisumu town during this period, by civil society rather than politicians.

Held hostage

Local politicians and leaders are held hostage by a hardline constituency who have an enormous sense of distrust and injustice over the election results – so politicians are under pressure to “perform” to expectations rather than explain, as was the case last weekend by a visiting group of MPs. 

Taking into consideration the reaction in Kisumu during the delay of election results, there should be concern about any perceived delay in the mediation process. 

Immediate assistance for the huge population of migrant returnees would seem to be an essential component of any solution, as, apart from humanitarian reasons, in the present context, its absence or inadequacy is perceived to be deliberate marginalisation; and returnees are particularly vulnerable to the State and security vacuum.

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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