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Kenya's Displaced Finding Resettlement Difficult


The Kenyan government is nearly a month into its efforts to resettle hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence following disputed elections in December. But as Derek Kilner reports from Molo, in Kenya's Rift Valley region, tens of thousands remain in camps, reluctant to leave, and those who have returned see little being done to avoid a new round of clashes and displacement in the future.

For the last few months, the rolling green hills of Kenya's Rift Valley, a fertile region known as the country's breadbasket, have been dotted by bright patches of white - clusters of tents holding families displaced by the clashes that followed December's elections. By mid-February some 300,000 people were living in camps, with hundreds of thousand more staying with friends or family away from their homes.

The country's new coalition government, likely fearing that the presence of camps undermines the image it is promoting of a stable country, has made resettlement of IDPs a top and visible priority. In early May, the government launched "Operation Return Home," sending military trucks to ferry people back to their plots of land, and bolstering the presence of police in some of the most affected areas.

Esau Gitonga returned to his farm after a new police post was built just down the road. A member of president Kibaki's Kikyuyu tribe, Gitonga's family has owned its plot of land since 1972. Following December's elections, neighbors belonging to the Kalenjin, who supported Kibaki's opponent in the elections, Raila Odinga, and who claim the land in the area historically belongs to their community, burned down one of the houses on his plot, looted another, and stole his cows. Gitanga fled to Molo town. With the arrival of the police station, he has returned, but he is still worried about insecurity

"We are secure but not settled," he said. "In fear."

He says his family is still living in fear. A few days ago a neighbor's house was burned down, and tensions are still high.

Gitonga is fortunate to live within shouting distance of a police station and in an area where most of his neighbors belong to his tribe. A short drive away, in Kuresoi, Kikuyus are far outnumbered by their Kalenjin neighbors and resettlement has been more difficult.

Peter Ng'ang'a and his family have been moved from a large camp to a smaller one, a kilometer down the road from his farm.

He and his family work on the land during the day and return to the camp in the evening. His house was destroyed following the election, and he says he has not received enough assistance from the government to rebuild it yet. More fundamentally, he says he does not yet feel secure. He says providing more police is not the answer. The government, he says, needs to bring the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities together to discuss and work out their grievances, something the government has been too slow to do.

Both Ng'ang'a and Gitonga point out that their homes were destroyed in similar attacks following the country's first multiparty elections in 1992. And if the government does not do more to promote reconciliation, clashes and displacement are likely to occur again.

Many of Ng'ang'a's neighbors in Kuresoi say they are willing to give up their land if they are compensated with a plot of comparable value somewhere else, though they would prefer to reach an agreement that allows them to stay in the area.

Many of those remaining in the main camps in Molo say they say they have little interest in returning to homes in what they view as hostile environments. Some went back to their homes, but have since returned to the camps, saying they have not received enough support to reestablish their homes, or are worried about new attacks. Earlier this month, two people who had returned to their home in Molo were killed. Others were renting homes and have no land of their own to return to.

Esther Wanjiru fled the home she was renting.

She says she would not feel safe going back. There were eight policemen in the area, but they stood by as houses were burned.

Wanjiru and others want the government to find them somewhere to live and provide financial assistance for them to establish themselves. So far, they say, the government has only offered transportation.

Some human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have expressed concern with reports that camp residents are being forcibly evicted. Residents at the Sawmill camp on the outskirts of Molo say that nobody from the government has told them directly that they must leave, but that they have been left with that impression. Many said that food supplies have stopped arriving since the resettlement effort began and other services, including medical care are being cut back.

The Kenya Red Cross says food and other assistance is being maintained for anyone still staying at the camps - some 87,000 people in 123 camps across the country by their most recent count. And the organization also says many of those resisting calls for resettlement are not "real" IDPs, but people who are at the camp merely to take advantage of offers of handouts. Residents at the Sawmill camp rejected such claims, saying they resented the impression that they are enjoying their stay at the crowded camps.

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