News 2008



The Forgotten IDPs

In the urgent rush to assist the displaced people concentrated at camps centred in Rift Valley Province,more than 25,000 IDPs have been largely forgotten, despite having been chased from their homes since 2006.

African and world media coverage has been focussed on Kenya these past four months, and the centre of this attention has been on the hundreds of thousands displaced as a consequence of post-election violence.

As a result, tented cities have been erected, much-needed food supplied, temporary schools established, and socially conscious companies and international agencies have brought to these desperate people a range of services and support. Bedding and clothing, counselling and prayer sessions, toys and play therapy, all manner of assistance has been provided from a caring Kenyan community.

But throughout all this, tens of thousands, almost all children and mothers, have been living under plastic covers, sleeping without bedding, shivering without warm clothing, and going hungry for almost two years. These are IDPs too, but no ambassador or high commissioner has visited. No presidential or even ministerial visit has been made to see them. In fact, over 9000 school age children have gone without education among these people since November 2006.

Where, you ask? Who?

High on Mount Elgon, at altitudes of about 3000m, over 25,000 Ndorobo cling to life in an environment which does not permit farming. Over 90 per cent of these people fled here in the face of murder and rape, maiming and looting, arson and persecution. They came from the disputes at Chepyuk in 2006/7. They ran from the post election mayhem at Saboti and Kwanza and Eldoret earlier this year.

There are no ordered, tented camps here. Instead, stretched across an area of 600 sq kms, the wretched mothers and their children, together with some old mamas and wazee, cluster in small groups in makeshift mud or bamboo shacks, or even under the trees, protected from the elements only by some pieces of plastic hung from branches.

The government refused access for NGOs to erect temporary schools in 2007. Sheets of mabati still sit in the district headquarters town of Kapsokwony, unused donations from well-meaning churches and international relief agencies.

It is only today, at the end of these people’s 16th month living out in the exposed cold and rains of the high mountain, that one agency – Plan International, through a Grant from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) – has been able to bring some woollen sweaters and underwear for infants and children. This is the first clothing delivered to the Ndorobo in all their time living out in the wild.

Now there is light at the end of these people’s miserable tunnel.

The elders of the Ndorobo met today with the Mount Elgon District Commissioner and presented to him a resolution unanimously agreed to by them all and intended for President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga. It is the Ndorobo’s proposal for a final settlement of the land issues which have dogged this marginalised community since Kenya’s independence.

“Our people never wanted to move to Chepyuk,” said Kirui Maru aged 85 years, a senior elder speaking on behalf of the Ndorobo peoples. “We are pastoralists. But we were forced to accept resettlement because all the infrastructure – roads, schools and the dispensary, which served our community was destroyed or allowed to rot by the government throughout the period from 1970 to date.

“Now we have been chased back to where we began by force of arms of the so-called Sabaot Land Defence Force. So we say, let the Pok community have Chepuyk if they want it so much. Leave us alone in Chepkitale and rebuild our schools and a clinic. Give us a little land on the eastern slope of our mountain – the area from which we were displaced by the white settlers under an agreement we signed with them in 1911.”

The elders insist that they have never taken up arms against their neighbours, but preferred to seek refuge in their ancestral homes. They are angry that while the community which protected the SLDF and from which its members were recruited have been getting regular support from agencies such as Kenya Human Rights and the Red Cross, little or nothing has been done for the Ndorobo – whom they see as the innocent persecuted community in all of this conflict.

“It seems that if you carry a gun you get attention, but if you seek no confrontation and prefer to turn the other cheek you are ignored and allowed to die,” said Mr Kirui Maru.

While the Ndorobo continue to wait to be heard, the children still shiver and the mothers die in childbirth. MSF Belgium and a local, expatriate doctor are the only regular visitors giving succour to these, Kenya’s longest lasting and most ignored internally displaced people.

They hope they can survive long enough for some of them to be alive to see some action on the part of the political chattering classes of Kenya.