1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. East Africa
  4. Kenya

IDPs as political pawns in Kenya

A view of the Eldoret IDP camp, April 2008. The camp hosts over 14,000 people displaced during the post election violence in Kenya.
At least 350,000 were displaced at the height of the violence, which also claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people.
(Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

Belonging to the “wrong” ethnic group in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province cost Milka Wanjiru her home, her farm and her shop. After elections in 1992, the mother of 11 lost it all to looters and arsonists.

"It is now 20 years since I became displaced, I have known no peace since then," Wanjiru told IRIN in Nakuru, the main town in Rift Valley, where the family lives in a rented house. "Two years after we were displaced, we tried to return to our home to rebuild our lives but we were shocked to find a note on the charred kitchen door saying 'We have already burnt everything, now we want your husband's head'. We left and have never gone back."

To survive, Wanjiru and her children turned to casual labour in farms at Mutukanio, Nakuru North District. Her family is one of 2,700 grouped under the Greater Subukia Zone internally displaced persons (IDPs), who were uprooted from their homes in the Rift Valley during the 1992 and 1997 election years.

Thousands of families such as Wanjiru's find themselves uncertain of ever resettling as political, policy and technical difficulties persist in the country's handling of IDPs.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), an NGO, has a caseload of 50,000 IDPs, whose displacement predates the post-election violence of 2008, often by two decades.

Across the country, there are now between 200,000 and 250,000 conflict-related IDPs in Kenya, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a project of the Norwegian Refugee Council.


Muthoni Wanyeki, KHRC executive director, told IRIN not enough attention had been paid to those displaced before the 2007 elections, when disputed results unleashed violence that pushed some 600,000 people to flee their homes.

"The KHRC is only one organization. Reports have been produced on the clashes that led to displacement in 1997 and in 1992, yet none of these reports has been acted on,” she said. 

Read more
 Kenya's post-election crisis
 Nyanza's forgotten IDPs
 Resettlement concerns as ICC mulls case against suspects
 Communities forge their own peace in the Rift Valley
 Still displaced three years after poll violence
 Forced to flee
 "Last year we had plans"

"Fundamentally, the underlying reasons for displacement remain. The Ministry of Lands should initiate discussion on ways and means of dealing with the various [competing] claims to land in the Rift Valley and Coast," she said.

Wanyeki also took issue with a 2008 government resettlement plan, dubbed Operation Rudi Nyumbani (“Return Home” in Kiswahili) saying this failed to acknowledge the socio-economic variety among those displaced that year, treating them all as “as if they were smallholder farmers who had land of their own".

"We have IDPs who lived in urban and peri-urban areas and who were renting houses; there were those who had homes and land and those who did not have land," Wanyeki said. "There was no planning for these IDPs in the implementation of the resettlement programme.

"Secondly, resettlement was beset by corruption at local levels - district levels - regarding payment of compensation for IDPs who lost property. Thirdly, there was large-scale corruption with regard to buying land and building houses for the IDPs." 

Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, IDMC’s Horn of Africa analyst, said Kenya had several categories of IDPs whose situation remained dire.

"We have those historically displaced during the colonial days from their land in Central and Rift Valley provinces; those displaced as a result of human rights violations like the case of Wagalla massacre and lately in Mount Elgon [western Kenya]; those displaced as a result of politically instigated violence in 1992 and 1997; the 2007-2008 post-election displaced; the Mau evictees; those displaced by natural disasters; those displaced as a result of violation of Kenya's territories and; finally, those who are regularly displaced as a result of conflict over water and pasture resources."

Political interference

Unfortunately, Sheekh said, the IDP situation had become politicized. "You find that politicians always invoke IDPs but rarely deal with the situation in a comprehensive manner," he said. "The political elites are so pre-occupied with the 2012 elections that the welfare of IDPs has been put on the back burner for the time being. Political priority has become the ICC [International Criminal Court, where proceedings against six prominent Kenyans have been initiated over their involvement in the 2007-2008 violence], and the 2012 elections.

"To be fair to the government, positive steps have been taken to find durable solutions for IDPs," Sheekh said. "Durable solutions include return, resettlement in another part of the country and local integration. However, these steps were not undertaken in the spirit of the UN Guiding Principles or the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance to IDPs.

“Most importantly [in 2008] the government mostly attended to Kikuyu IDPs and ignored the needs of other sections of the IDP population, such as pastoralist Somalis, Turkanas, etc,” he said.

Sheekh added that Operation Rudi Nyumbani violated IDPs’ right, enshrined in the Guiding Principles, not to be forcibly returned to areas of high risk to their lives, safety and liberty. “The government rushed the programme through and settled IDPs in transit camps despite protests from sections of the IDP population.

"Monitoring and analysis of this programme has shown that very little consultation was carried out and the programme was implemented in the absence of proper reconciliation between communities," Sheekh said.

An Internally Displaced Person (IDP), builds a shlter in the Burnt Forest IDP camp, 40km northwest of Eldoret, Kenya April 2008. The number of IDPs in several camps in the area kept fluctuating as some tried to return home and others sought refuge with f

Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
An Internally Displaced Person (IDP), builds a shlter in the Burnt Forest IDP camp, 40km northwest of Eldoret, Kenya April 2008. The number of IDPs in several camps in the area kept fluctuating as some tried to return home and others sought refuge with f
Friday, May 2, 2008
IDPs as political pawns in Kenya
An Internally Displaced Person (IDP), builds a shlter in the Burnt Forest IDP camp, 40km northwest of Eldoret, Kenya April 2008. The number of IDPs in several camps in the area kept fluctuating as some tried to return home and others sought refuge with f

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Resettlement of IDPs was beset by corruption (file photo)

Unresolved tensions

David Tebelewa fled his home in the Rift Valley’s Njoro district in 1998 after an attack by a rival community, which left his mother and two brothers dead. He had a 0.8 hectare potato farm before he was forced to flee and is now a casual labourer around Nakuru.

"Those of us who were displaced were allocated land in [another] district but the land was also allocated to people who bribed government officials. In the end, only those close to power got land while were remain landless and suffering."

Patrick Githinji, the chairman of the National Network of IDPs, an NGO, said: "People at grassroots have yet to achieve peace; they [different communities] only co-exist with a lot of mistrust and suspicion."

Of the IDPs displaced before the 2007 polls, Githinji said, the largest single group consisted of tens of thousands of families, displaced between 1992 and 2006, who have since integrated into local communities around Nakuru.

"This group forms a large number of hawkers, informal sector workers, prostitutes and street families in Nakuru town," he added.

Githinji said there was a need to sensitize IDPs against manipulation by politicians seeking votes. He said he feared IDPs may not be resettled this year so politicians can use them during their campaigns for the 2012 elections.

Efforts by IRIN to obtain comment from the Ministry of State for Special Programmes, which is in charge of the IDP resettlement, were unsuccessful.

Sheekh of the IDMC told IRIN: "For Kenya to find a durable solution to the perennial IDP problem, it is important that she adopts the Draft National IDP Policy which is still lying at the Ministry of State for Special Programmes. It is also important that the government ratifies the African Union IDP Convention.

"These instruments provide a framework for IDP protection. That said, the implementation of the new constitution is likely to address issues that have been causing grievances and will hopefully redress these grievances."


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

Share this article
Join the discussion

Help make quality journalism about crises possible

The New Humanitarian is an independent, non-profit newsroom founded in 1995. We deliver quality, reliable journalism about crises and big issues impacting the world today. Our reporting on humanitarian aid has uncovered sex scandals, scams, data breaches, corruption, and much more.


Our readers trust us to hold power in the multi-billion-dollar aid sector accountable and to amplify the voices of those impacted by crises. We’re on the ground, reporting from the front lines, to bring you the inside story. 


We keep our journalism free – no paywalls – thanks to the support of donors and readers like you who believe we need more independent journalism in the world. Your contribution means we can continue delivering award-winning journalism about crises. Become a member of The New Humanitarian today

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.