Conflict and natural disasters have created many internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees in Africa. In October, the African Union will hold a summit in Uganda on developing a unified policy to deal with humanitarian crises – something called the Kampala Convention.
Millions of people were displaced in northern Uganda by the long war between the government and LRA rebels, led by Joseph Kony.
Professor Tarsis Kabwegyere is Uganda's minister of relief and disaster preparedness and refugees and a former refugee himself. From Kampala, he says helping those forced from their homes is a huge problem for many countries.
"The figure is such a big thing. You know, we are talking (about) over 17 million people affected by displacement of one kind or another – natural and man-made. And this is a lot of people to be in misery," he says.
Where to start?
"We hit it hard head on because Uganda had a tradition of handling refugees. We have hadrefugees from Congo…Sudan…Rwanda and recently refugees from Kenya. And we also had our own internal problems arising out of the Kony rebellion," he says.
The minister says as a result, Uganda has developed "outstanding" policies for dealing with refugees and IDPs, eventually resettling them back home.
"The refugees are not in the camps. They are in settlements and they are able to raise their food. In some cases, they are able to produce more food than even the local population around them," he says.
Settlements better than refugee camps
"Camp life is so miserable and especially when it's long term. For example, you see Congolese who have been here for more than 30 years, 40 years. If they were in the camps, they would have been miserable," he says.
He also says those given shelter in Uganda also have access to a number of services, including education.
"Many of the current leaders in Uganda experienced refugee status…. So, we have tended to be more humane than other countries," Kabwegyere says.
But solving humanitarian issues also involves dealing with the causes, such as political turmoil and conflict.
"For example, we now have about 50,000 Congolese in Uganda. We don't know how soon the situation will be changed. So when people can produce their own food and are complimented with humanitarian assistance, you have some semblance of normal life," he says.
An African solution to an African problem
"That's why there's this special summit, because now the objectives are very, very clear. Identify ways of preventing forced displacement. Improve the protection of victims of forced displacement. Strengthen measures to meet specific needs of displaced women and children…. And devise strategies to reduce the impact of natural disasters," he says.
For example, meteorologists have predicted a return of El Nino weather patterns this year, which could trigger flood or drought conditions in Africa.
Kabwegyere says African nations also need to strengthen partnerships with the international community.
The AU summit on internally displaced people and refugees will be held in Kampala from October 19th through the 23rd.