News 2008


Refugees fear returning to their homes

Daily Nation


11. March 2008

Nearly two weeks after President Kibaki and his election rival Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing pact that ended Kenya’s political crisis, thousands of people are still living in camps unable to return to their homes.

From Kitale to Eldoret to Nakuru and Nairobi, the internal refugees give various reasons for their plight.

They include fear of neighbours who evicted them, destruction of their homes and lack of money to start life afresh.

In Nairobi, the refugees want President Kibaki and Mr Odinga, the Prime Minister-designate, to visit them and listen to their concerns.

Top on their list is their resettlement, compensation for losses incurred during the mayhem and cash to restart new lives.

Mr Joseph Mbatia, 62, who has taken refuge at Muthaiga police depot said: “It is those at the top who have greeted each other. But we are yet to go back and greet our neighbours because we are not sure of how they will receive us because they are the ones who chased us away.”

Speaking to the Nation, the refugees said they were yet to feel the effects of leaders’ peace pact.

Most of them also fear moving out of the camps because they are not sure of their security.

“Mr Odinga must come here and talk to the people just like he did in Kibera. He should come and see for himself and tell those who are hostile that we should live peacefully with one another,” added Mr Joseph Muigai who is also sheltered at the police depot.

A large number of displaced families have asked the Government to provide capital for starting business and compensation for losses incurred. Mr Njenga Munywa owned 25 rental rooms which were burnt and seeks compensation.

Assured of security

Ms Rosalia Simbii from Mathare Chief’s Camp said that like many other women at the camps, who run small businesses, she had been reduced to a pauper by the violence that broke out after the Electoral Commission of Kenya announced the disputed presidential poll results.

Mr Johanna Gichinge who lived between Ngurukona and Kasabuni area, said he cannot go back unless he is assured of security.

Mr Francis Mwangi at Ruaraka Police Station had build a house with 24 rental rooms and complained that those who had moved in had done so by force and were not paying rent.

He asked President Kibaki and Mr Odinga to visit the camps.

“What I know is there is peace up there, but not down here for us. People had started going back to their homes after the news, but were chased away. They are very hostile to us. If there was peace, we would have gone back.”

They have also called on the Government to disarm criminal gangs in their areas. Those at Ruaraka Police Station camp complained of two groups in Kariobangi around Githathuro rivers.

They claimed the groups named Downtown and Darfur were supported by a councillor.

Ms Magdalene Nduta Gitau, a mother of four and Ms Velma Atieno lived in Baba Dogo estate.

They said they were still not convinced that security had been restored in the area, and expressed their willingness to return home.

“We don’t like staying here. The conditions are deplorable,” said Ms Atieno.

At Mathare Chief’s camp on Juja Road where about 700 people have sheltered, Mr George Kamamu said that many families were concerned about their security.

“Last night about 10 houses were brunt in Bondeni area. Even though we believe there is relative peace, we are not assured of our security especially after what most of us witnessed,” said the community leader.

Problem going back

“We wish to see people compensated and resettled. We have no problem going back if this is done,” he said.

Mr Issa Mirimo Odera, 35, also at Mathare Chief’s Camp said they lived in fear.

“We can go back, but there must be an agreement and security must be felt. The Government must ensure peace is maintained and strictly deal with those who cause disruptions,” he said.

At the depot where about 200 people are camping, 40-year-old Gerald Maina accused political leaders of neglecting the campers’ plight.

“The war is over up there, but not at the grassroots,” he said.

Mr Simon Karanja said the power-sharing deal meant nothing to him. He, however, said the violence in Mathare had nothing to do with the 2007 General Election.

“It happens time and again out of any small provocation. It is a trend in this area and the Government must look into this.”

His sentiments were echoed by Ms Rose Nyaguthii and Ms Margaret Wanjiru who asked authorities to address the causes of insecurity.

“This is not about the election,” said Mr Nyaguthii.

“Security is still a problem since some of us who tried going back were chased away,” observed Ms Rachael Wanza.

Investigations by the Daily Nation also revealed that the option of moving to their ancestral homes also seemed to be another bottleneck as several affected families claimed to have been rejected by their relatives.

It is estimated that close to 350,000 people were displaced from their homes after violence erupted in parts of the country over last year’s disputed presidential poll tallying.

The numbers have kept fluctuating as people move from one camp to another in the hope of moving closer to their ancestral homes perceived to be safer.

The Government has already formed a department of mitigation and resettlement under the Special Programmes ministry as a way of fast tracking resettlement of the displaced people.

Over the weekend, Special Programmes minister Naomi Shaban reiterated the Government’s commitment in dealing with the plight of the internally displaced persons.

Mean nothing

Ms Shaaban, who was speaking at Kenyatta International Conference Centre during the International Women’s Day said the Sh1 billion kitty launched in February will be used to resettle the displaced.

But the majority of displaced persons, especially in the Rift Valley with the highest number of victims, accuse the Government of doing little to resettle them, claiming the peace deal had only served the political elite. Some claim they had been warned against returning to their farms.

President Kibaki and Mr Odinga have asked the displaced to return home.

Those camping at over 100 spots including schools, churches and show grounds have also received the proposed Ethnic Relations Bill with a sigh of relief. The Bill is expected to foster peaceful coexistence among various ethnic groups.

Many of the internally displaced persons have also expressed willingness to forgive their neighbours who wronged them during the mayhem.