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Urban displaced still looking for a home

First-time mother Elizabeth Mueni gave birth under a tree on a roadside, she is one of 263 internally displaced persons (IDPs) camping at the Dagoretti district officer's compound, Kenya. March 2008.
(Allan Gichigi/IRIN)

Kenya may have inched closer to a grand coalition with the opening of parliament, but little has changed for the hundreds of people still displaced in the capital, Nairobi.

"My baby is 10 days old, I remain under this tarpaulin tent not knowing what the future holds," Elizabeth Mueni, one of 263 IDPs camping at the Dagoretti district officer's (DO) compound, told IRIN.

"I wish I could get some money to rent a house and restart my vegetable-selling business; the windy conditions here are risky for my baby," she said.

Mueni, like most of the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kenya's urban areas, lived in rental accommodation. Their houses, mainly in slum areas, were either destroyed during post-election violence in January and February or have since been let out to other tenants.

As a result, the IDPs cannot go back to their homes even if they wanted to. Even those who owned homes cannot return because their houses were vandalised, destroyed or occupied illegally.

After the signing of a power-sharing deal on 28 February between the country's key political players, ending two months of post-election violence, focus has shifted to the resettlement of IDPs. But Mueni and hundreds like her in Nairobi have yet to find a home.

Government officials say efforts are under way to resettle most of the IDPs.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Cornelius Wamalwa, the district officer for Dagoretti

"The displaced people who had homes are going to show us where they lived and we'll ensure they go back there and aid agencies are helping by paying a few months' rent for those who cannot go back," said Cornelius Wamalwa, the district officer (DO) for Dagoretti. "We have also started peace initiatives to ensure that reconciliation takes root."

He said fear was the main reason behind the IDPs' reluctance to go back home.

"Many are afraid, they need a security guarantee before they can go back; we are working on this," he said. "Moreover, the government has a compensation plan, which includes rebuilding homes for those who can identify where their houses were and relocation for those who cannot."

Most of the IDPs at the Dagoretti DO's office and those at the Kibera DO's office lived in the vast Kibera slum while those at the Huruma chief's camp lived in the nearby Mathare slum. Kibera and Mathare are the country's largest informal settlements, where most landlords do not have titles to their property as most of the land is government-owned.

"When the government closed the IDP camp, I went to the Jamhuri Showground where these families had been for many days and brought them here because they had no alternative," Kepha Marube, the DO for Kibera, said. "I have arranged for an apartment to accommodate these families as we try to resettle those who can return to their homes and to integrate those who cannot. It is not an exercise that can be completed quickly, it will take time."

But time is something the IDPs sleeping in the open do not have. Those in the apartment are sleeping 55 people to a room.

"Look at these women, their faces are pock-marked with mosquito bites, they sleep with their children on the cold floor without mosquito nets. How much longer can they withstand this?" Nathan Ndegwa Muraguri, one of the IDPs camping at the Kibera DO's office, asked. "If you show interest in returning to your home, those illegally occupying it start vandalising it. What are we to do?"

Marube said his office had an inventory of houses in Kibera that were being occupied by illegal tenants.

"We are making efforts to contain the situation through dialogue and have engaged all those involved in attitude-changing training to get them to vacate these houses," he said. "With time, we will get them out of the houses and later we will begin the legal process of prosecuting those who will have been found to have committed offences."

Appeal for aid

Reginah Awinja Owino, a government official in charge of the IDPs at the Kibera DO's office, said rooms had been found for most of the IDP families in an apartment nearby, but some of the families had declined to move there and were instead sleeping in the open at the DO's office.

"We are trying to help these people; organisations such as the Kenya Red Cross and Care Kenya have been here to give donations but we do not have mosquito nets and mattresses to give to the IDPs," Owino said.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
A displaced woman and child outside a building in the Kibera district officer's compound

She appealed to charities to provide mosquito nets and mattresses for the 73 IDP families under her jurisdiction. "We are also trying to get medical organisations to come and attend to these people as they are really suffering from the mosquitoes," Owino said.

Elizabeth Muthoni, a mother of eight and one of the 55 IDPs housed in a room on Kibera's Karanja Road area, said most of the displaced just wanted money to rent new homes and find some work.

"We do not like it here; we would like to go on with our lives but we lack the means. Three of my children are in school and I cannot even afford their uniforms; if I got some money I could resume my trade of selling second-hand shoes. Then I wouldn't have to live like this," she said.

In coming weeks, members of parliament are expected to debate bills concerning the establishment of a coalition that will help to expedite the resettlement of IDPs in urban and rural areas hit by the post-election violence.

The government and aid agencies estimate the crisis led to the deaths of at least 1,500 Kenyans and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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