Kenyans still displaced by 2007 poll

2013-02-26 13:51

Nakuru - In makeshift camps on windswept barren land more than 100 families, chased from their homes in the wave of violence and killing that followed the disputed 2007 polls, are still waiting to be re-homed.

In the run up to the next elections on March 4, these still displaced people camping around the town of Nakuru in Kenya's Rift Valley fear renewed violence once more.

They have been excluded from the reinstallation and compensation package that the Kenyan government set up in 2008, a deal criticised by rights groups and think tanks.

"Efforts to resettle, compensate or reintegrate internally displaced people [IDPs]...have often been patchy, ill-informed and, at times, fraught with alleged corruption," said the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.

The group claims the process has "lacked transparency"

Over 1 100 people were killed in the 2007-2008 violence, and some 600 000 fled their homes in bloody ethnic conflict that shattered Kenya's image as a beacon of regional stability.

At one camp called Kihoto - meaning "victory" in the local Kikuyu language - 108 families have been squashed in together since 2008, even though they failed to negotiate the complicated bureaucratic process to register as officially displaced people.

"Even if we were late to register we are still displaced," protests Jeffrey Morua, 41, who heads the camp.

Given that they were not allowed to join the official IDP camps, the families pooled what little money they had and bought this half acre of arid land for 100 000 Kenyan shillings.

Permanent homes

Each family has a plot just nine feet by 2.7m by 1.8m.

"It's not big enough to build a decent house," Morua said, pointing to the makeshift homes - rectangular structures made of tree branches covered with tarpaulin and bits of plastic.

"To build permanent homes we'd need money for bricks and iron sheets," he added.

Water is scare, and the residents of Kihoto must purchase it by the jerrycan.

The overcrowded school is several kilometres away, and the children from the camp are the first to be sent home when the classrooms are full.

Some of the displaced do day labour on the surrounding farms for little more than a dollar a day.

To feed their families they grow vegetables on land close by that is lying empty and that belongs to rich Nairobi-based businessmen.

"We want the government to recognise us as displaced people. We would like them to find us a place to live and to give us the allowance the others got," said Teresa Wanja, 56, who uses a long wooden pole as a basic crutch.

"I was trampled during the election violence, and am still in pain, we have no access to any kind of medical care," she said.

Her son lost an eye in the post-election violence and lives with his surviving sister. Her other daughter died in 2008, traumatised after having seen her neighbours pushed into their burning house and burnt alive.

The Kenyan government insists the displaced people have been re-homed and compensated, saying that only some 700 families remain.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) however claims more than 300,000 people are still displaced, were not registered and received no help.

 'I know the attackers'

Near to Kihoto, a similar camp called Vumilia - "perseverance" in Swahili - is home to around 250 people who also failed to register in the appointed timeframe.

They too pooled their meagre resources to buy just under one hectare of land, and are still waiting to be resettled.

A bit further down the road Elizabeth Wacu, 34, and her five children aged two to 16 live in the official camp of Ebenezer.

Once home to 240 residents, the 17 families left there refuse to budge and say they want financial compensation rather than land.

"We want the government to allow us to settle here, I think my family has been moved enough," Wacu says in the stifling darkness of her hut.

She lost out when she and other displaced families had to draw straws to see who would get the brick and corrugated iron houses built by an aid agency.

But she says that those who are re-homed still face multiple challenges linked to the difficulty of finding work and to hostility from local people where they are settled.

Jeffrey Morua, Teresa Wanja and Elizabeth Wacu are all adamant on one point: they have no intention of going back to where they came from.

All are still scarred by the scale of the violence they saw, and scared at the idea of returning to live next to their attackers.

"I know the attackers, some of them were my neighbours, my friends. I'm afraid if I go back of having to live with those people again," explains Morua, who fled electoral violence in 1992 and 1997, but who felt able to return home after those votes.

"I can't go back because of all the horrors I saw. If we go back to my home, I can show you who attacked my house. They are still there, we know who it was," echoed Wacu.

As Kenya gears up for fresh poll, she adds that the authorities have never come to ask her what happened last time the country voted, and saying she has trouble imagining she will ever get justice.