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Return of IDPs not a durable solution

Written by Duncan Mboyah

The return of Kenya’s post 2007 elections Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to areas that were affected by land grievances should not be promoted as a durable solution but rather as a temporary measure to be accompanied by clear efforts to resolve the underlying causes of displacements, London based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) warns.

In its recent humanitarian policy group brief, the institute recommends that if durable solutions are found, programmes must henceforth take account of those who were forced to move in earlier wave of displacement.

“Simply focusing on facilitating the return of people displaced in the current crisis, in the absence of efforts to address underlying structural causes, risks creating the conditions for further rounds of violence and fresh displacements,” the brief warns.

The institute points out that even before the latest crisis, grievances over land had generated over 350,000 IDPs that now calls for clear processes to resolve the underlying issues.

“If a durable solution is to be achieved, historical grievances must be acknowledged and addressed in the way humanitarians engage in relief and return processes,” the brief adds.

The brief observes that going by Kenya’s history, the displacement crisis of the 2007 elections is thus not an anomaly, but a part of a sequence of recurrent displacement stemming from unresolved and politically aggravated land grievances in context of population growth, poor governance and socio economic insecurity.

The brief criticized the government for giving an arbitrary return deadline to the IDPs, terming the directive unfeasible and unhelpful as it could see some people returned against their will, yet such processes requires reconciliation processes that must enjoy the support of leading local and national politicians.

The brief observes that since the government has pledged to adhere to the international guiding principles on IDP return, it was fair that the resolution of land be questioned more broadly to avoid aggravating existing land grievances where population is high and land scarce.

“The humanitarian community too should be very cautious about facilitating the return in absence of presence and adequate security. They must demand for well informed advocacy that incorporates land tenure expertise to ensure that conditions for return are in place,” it says.

This will help ensure that their responses do not aggravate existing sources of tension, and are aligned with processes that aim to resolve the fundamental issues at stake.

The housing, land and property sub cluster and the early recovery cluster should engage more deeply with land tenure specialists.

The recovery process must include a systematic mechanism in collecting adequate data on IDPs inside and outside the camps, and from previous displacements, to help determine their profile, needs and intentions for easier interventions.

The institute condemns the permanent relocation of IDPs to their ancestral homelands saying that the move risks promoting ethnic cleansing and further fragmenting Kenya’s communities and could lead to renewed outbreak of violence.

It further recommends the inclusion of the civil society organizations in promoting reconciliation and peace building as well as exerting pressure on the government to tackle the underlying causes of displacements.

The internal displacement is a recurring theme in Kenya’s recent history as it stretched back to colonial era. The then British land policy favoured white settlers who occupied mostly fertile agricultural lands as they disposed indigenous communities.

This process was legalized with the implementation of an individual freehold title registration system at the expense of customary mechanisms of land tenure.

This land grievance was further abused by Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta who maintained the system and did not question how the land was acquired.

He instead began a series of resettlement schemes based on market system, which was biased towards those with the financial means to acquire land.

Corruption and ethnic patronage ended up favouring his ethnic Kikuyu community who were settled in fertile rift valley at the expense of other communities.

The tensions were further exacerbated by Kenyatta’s successor Daniel Arap Moi who tended to portray the opposition he faced in 1990s as Kikuyu led, and multiparty politics as an exclusionary ethnic project to control land.

His remarks evoked majimboism, a type of federalism that promotes provincial autonomy based on ethnicity. During the period, the kikuyu's were evicted from the areas they had settled in rift valley and parts of western Kenya.

Associated classes throughout the 1990s left thousands dead and over 350,000 displaced, allowing Moi to gerrymander elections in 1992 and 1997.

Rampant land grabbing further undermined customary mechanism of land governance, while growing hardships among the majority poor and rapid population growth increased pressure on the country’s arable land.

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