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Rights Groups Demand Justice for Kenyans Displaced by Political Violence

As Kenya gears up for possible elections this year - and as four prominent Kenyans are to have their post-election violence cases tried before the International Criminal Court - thousands of people are still languishing in often-deplorable conditions in camps that they fled to during violence following the last elections. Backed by human rights groups, the so-called IDPs are calling for the government to re-settle or compensate them before new elections proceed.

Inside the tiny burlap-covered tent where Margaret Wairimu lives with her seven children are several secondary school textbooks donated by a well wisher. The textbooks mock her and her teenage son David, since there is no way she can afford to send him to school.

Wairimu and her children have been at Tumaini camp in the Maai Mahiu area since early 2008, after having fled violence that killed her father. She said life in the camp is hell.

“Here, there are many problems. There is no water, there is no food to cook, we do not have clothing, the basic needs for the households are not available. We are waiting for well-wishers to come here and give us food and clothes,” said Wairimu.

In late 2007 and early 2008, the country erupted into ethnic violence following the bitterly-disputed 2007 presidential poll. More than 1,000 people were killed.

Estimates of the number of people who fled such violence range from around 300,000 to more than 663,000, as reported by the Kenya Human Rights Commission.

People fled to hundreds of camps across the country. Through government or donor programs, such as Habitat for Humanity, many of them returned to their homes, were integrated into new communities, or even pooled their government payments together to purchase land as a group.

But thousands still languish in camps like the one in Tumaini, too afraid to go back to their original homes.

Keffa Magenyi is programs coordinator at the Internal Displacement Policy and Advocacy Center based in Nakuru, a group addressing the rights of victims of post-election violence.

Magenyi estimates that there are 29 camps housing more than 40,000 households, and that almost half of the displaced population, or IDPs, did not receive government assistance of any kind.

“You still find a big population of IDPs have not been catered for, have not been resettled, have not gotten justice, have still not gone back to their farms,” said Magenyi.

VOA was unable to get an interview with Minister of Special Programs Esther Murugi despite repeated attempts to do so.

Naivasha Member of Parliament John Mututho is taking party leaders and several ministers to court over the government’s failure to re-settle the IDPs.

He alleges that a network of people is siphoning off assistance meant for the IDPs with the support of people within the government.

“People are getting kickbacks. People do not want the problem to be sorted out because they gain. The president [Mwai Kibabki] has been very candid: two weeks, end of the month. But they somehow confuse him and he has to give new deadlines and extend others,” said Mututho.

He also is calling on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission not to draw up electoral boundaries for the next elections until the IDPs have been settled.