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Story Publication logo December 16, 2009

Kenyan IDPs Still Waiting for Promised Land, Money

Media file: camp.jpg

For about 18 months, more than a half of million people from the Ugandan area have been displaced...


Jordan Wilson, Pulitzer Student Fellow

I didn't expect too much cooperation from the government heading into this project. The main reason is because there's been a lot of scrutiny toward the government when it comes to the IDP situation. Most people in the camps, as well as some NGOs and non-profits, blame the government for not protecting the people in the IDP camps and also point out the government hasn't followed through on its promise to help IDPs in relocation.


At the Pipeline camp in Nakuru, more than 5,000 formerly displaced people are still living in the same tents they used after post election violence in late 2007. The government has promised to help IDPs in Kenya both financially and through a 2.5 acre chunk of land. While some IDPs received at least a portion of the promised financial support, none have received the land they were promised. That empty promise has people in camps such as the Pipeline IDP camp in Nakuru thinking the tents may be more than temporary.

It's widely accepted – both by those affected by post-election violence and government officials alike – that the government had many shortcomings when it came to safety. No one will argue that the government didn't do enough to protect Kenyans from the eruption of violence.

However, many people say big-shot politicians were the driving forces behind the violence. They say that some high-ranking government officials spearheaded the attacks for their own political gain. The assumed benefit is that if the supporters of an opposing political party are displaced and lose everything, then that political affiliation becomes less of a threat. This is why violence and elections in Kenya often walk hand-in-hand.

During my trip, a group of officials acted as if they wanted to discuss the IDP situation with me. Not to my amazement, they canceled last minute after closed-door meetings with superiors. After attempts to talk to almost a dozen key players, a few officials finally shed some light on the IDP situation from their side of the fence.

Most were tight-lipped during my visit because the prosecutor from the International Criminal Court reportedly had his staff out full-force in the Rift Valley digging up information on IDP camps. This translated into some top-tier politicians and their staffs going out of their way to put a lid on all IDP-related information. Needless to say, this wasn't the best time to be reporting on IDP camps in Kenya. In my two weeks there, I saw multiple stories in the paper of people with damaging information on post-election violence who mysteriously went missing.

Failed Promises

Lucy Ndemo knows it will be hard for her to keep the promise her government put in place. Ndemo is a District Officer in Nakuru, a city that saw the most ethnically diverse population of IDPs in Kenya.

It's a promise that's caused much rift between internally displaced persons in Kenya and the government.

About two weeks before shutting down the IDP camps, Kenya president Mwai Kibaki in September pledged the government's support to IDPs in the Rift Valley, saying both financial support and 2.5 acres of land were on the way.

"We should move with speed to resettle the IDPs who are still in camps. This matter has dragged on for too long. We must deal with it and ensure that we do not have persons still living in camps," Kibaki said in a press briefing in September. "We also need to help those who are going back to their land to resettle and undertake their farming. I also appeal to all communities to live peacefully and co-exist harmoniously."

Some IDPs have received the monetary support promised, while others haven't seen a shilling. None, though, have received an acre of land.

And that's why tempers are still hot in the Rift Valley. Many IDPs lost their home, businesses and land. Their houses were burned and livelihoods destroyed. Most don't want to return to their homes, as intensifying ethnic rivalries have made safety an issue. Additionally, most have said they don't want to return to a place where their own neighbors relentlessly tried to kill them.

One of the reasons the government doesn't recognize the IDP camps is because they already closed them down. IDP camp leaders and non-profit directors say camps were closed as a way to cover-up any physical evidence that may harm politicians. In other words, closing the easily visible camps was an easy way for the government to erase a big piece of physical evidence of post-election violence. The last thing the government wanted was hundreds of thousands of witnesses for Ocampo's case against the Kenyan government.

Thousands are still displaced, even though they don't receive as much non-profit support because of the fact they are no longer officially recognized as IDP camps.

Now, officials call these groups resettlement camps or mobile camps. In many politicians' eyes, IDPs relocation from government-aided camps – and the problems the move brought along – shouldn't be covered on the government's dime.

"These people have created them," Ndemo said of the relocation camps. "This is the first problem of its type. The level of fear is so high that people opted not to go back to their homes after (the camps closed)."

The government has a plan to offer registered IDPs 2.5 acres of land, Ndemo said. However, she admitted that may be a plan that never sees fruition. With so many people displaced, it would be difficult to even find that much vacant land in Kenya, let alone find someone willing to sell it for a decent price.

"One of the problems is this is a lot of land and (the IDPs) might have a bias of where they do not want to go," Ndemo said.

Also, because many displaced persons have purchased land, government officials view that as their private land.

"It's not the government's policy to help people come out of certain areas," Ndemo said. "The government is still in the process of (helping) There are constraints. People have to understand this is not a fast-moving process."

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