|Rift Valley MPs’ condition for the resettlement of Kenyans displaced by the post-election violence is most disturbing. They do not want this to happen until a truth, justice and reconciliation commission is established. In a sense, they are affirming that the violence was not a consequence of the declaration of Mr Mwai Kibaki as president, but mainly about land.
|What remains of a house at Kumba farm, Njoro, smoulders after raiders attacked the village and burnt houses, also killing one person, at the height of the post-election violence. Photo/FILE
There are a number of issues to consider. First, from a humanitarian point of view, the IDPs should not be resettled at all if they feel insecure.
Many areas are still volatile and there are numerous cases of violence on people who try to go back to their farms. For instance, in Molo, Mau Summit, Kunyak, Lelu, Kuresoi, Sorget and Mtaragon people belonging to the “wrong” community still risk being attacked if they dare return.
The Government should therefore not force them to go back until there are systems to make sure they are safe and the indigenous residents recognise the value and inevitability of co-existence. This humanitarian consideration is not, however, why the MPs are opposed to the resettlement.
It appears as though the opposition to the resettlement has everything to do with perceived benefits accruing from the displacements. It is also about the self-preservation of a political class that may have sanctioned the violence in the first place and is afraid of the consequences of their action in view of global accountability.
Constitutionally, every Kenyan has a right to settle in any part of the country without fear of violence.
If eventually this right is revoked in respect of certain areas, the move should be made known to all and sundry. Some of the people who eventually settled in Rift Valley went there in the early 1900s as labourers on settler farms and know no other home.
Many others bought properties and settled on them before independence and played a key role in the area’s social and economic development. The emergence of an economic and political elite bent on reaping the benefits of violent displacement may be playing a role in the position taken by some MPs.
Why should a community rise against another in a world looking outwards more than inwards? Is it because the per capita income of the aggressor community is lesser than that of the victims or is it a consequence of natural resource endowment, population density or ethno-linguistic fractionalisation?
Income distribution among communities is an important factor in stemming conflict as well as its direction. It is therefore imperative that issues of poverty and unemployment especially among the youth are addressed urgently, rigorously and honestly.
The youth who took part in violence in Rift Valley face many problems, but their situation is not unique. It is similar to that facing young people in Coast, Western, Central, Eastern and other provinces.
Indeed, in certain cases, those who did not experience violence live more desperate lives. We cannot wait to address the plight of the youth across the country before IDPs in the Rift Valley are resettled, as demanded by certain MPs.
Access to natural resources ensures that governments have the financial capabilities which, if used transparently and prudently, can meet the people’s basic needs. But this would need understanding the interdependence between human-beings and the environment.
The population of Kenya has grown from eight million at independence to more than 32 million today. Yet this has not gone hand in hand with economic growth. Rift Valley is heavily populated and this causes immense social, economic and political challenges. Population density puts immense pressure on land, leading to its scarcity.
Yet in the case of the recent violence, people who did not own land were also targeted and harmed on the basis of their ethnicity.
Although the land question may have played a role, it is misleading to claim that the violence in the Rift Valley was driven by the feeling that some communities had unfairly acquired land in the region.
Unless, of course, promises had been made that once forced evacuations were effected, other people would automatically take possession of the idle land. The forced evacuations would then create ethnic enclaves.
Disturbingly, people erroneously believe that the creation of such enclaves will lead to stability and national unity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In an article carried in your paper on March 1, 2008, Mr Donald B. Kipkorir argues for the “establishment of tribal regions” as a way of creating a united nation and ensuring the end of “tribal” clashes, cattle rustling, burning of houses and other properties belonging to and murdering members of other ethnic groups.
Coming so soon after the signing of the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Agreement, brokered by former UN chief Kofi Annan, the article was suspect, in bad faith and misleading. It proceeds from the premise that the root cause of our political, economic and social problems is our ethno-linguistic diversity. Therefore, Dr Kipkorir believes, the solution is ethno-linguistic singularity through the creation of ethnically autonomous regions or homelands.
Inspired by the colonial partitioning of Africa in the 19th century, his article emphasises ethnic “difference” throughout as the country’s defining feature. The view may have over the years inspired some people in the Rift Valley.
Is Kenya’s ethno-linguistic diversity conflict enhancing? It is not. For many years, the communities have co-existed harmoniously. Indeed, a Kenyan identity spearheaded by the youth was emerging.
Unfortunately, the 2005 constitution referendum and the last elections polarised the country along ethnic lines and set the stage for the explosion we saw in January, this year.
The manipulation of ethnicity, the collapse of institutions of governance and the dishonest presentation of the causes of poverty by politicians, combined with other factors not peculiar to Rift Valley, led to the mayhem.
The situation in the Rift Valley is not unique and it should not be presented as such by the political elite. In any case, it might be worth exploring the extent to which the elite of specific ethnic groups are contributing to the marginalisation of families and communities around them.
What about historical injustices? One would need to go back to 1900 when European settlement was implemented under the “interpenetration” policy and the alienation of land. The policy was implemented in different parts of the country and many communities were affected, leading to the Mau Mau uprising.
At the Coast, we might need to examine how Mijikenda land was alienated by Arabs and deal with absentee landlords and the huge tracks of land owned by British settlers in Kenya.
If we are intent on turning the country around, we cannot afford to be hypocritical and selective in our understanding of what has taken place over the past century. We must come to terms with it in its totality, but without an ethno-linguistic bias.
The correct understanding of our country should be supervised by a truth and reconciliation commission. But it is important that the commission is not driven by a political elite determined to preserve itself.
Prof Njogu is a researcher on culture and leadership.