KENYA: Focus shifting to recovery, resettlement of IDPs

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

After two months of post-election violence, the humanitarian focus is shifting to help the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to recover and rebuild their lives.

"The resettlement of IDPs and livelihood recovery are some of the main areas we are now focusing on," Jeanine Cooper, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Kenya), said on 3 March. "We are putting in place measures to ensure that those affected can rebuild their lives."

The move from emergency response to recovery efforts comes as negotiations to end Kenya's political crisis focused on long-term issues and solutions. This last item on the talks’ agenda includes addressing poverty, inequitable distribution of resources and perceptions of historical injustices and exclusion of segments of Kenyan society.

Analysts say these issues have constituted the underlying causes of social tensions, instability and the cycle of violence in the country.

The negotiators, who achieved a major breakthrough with the signing of a power-sharing agreement on 28 February between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, have in the past two days discussed constitutional, legal and institutional reform.

Other areas of discussion have included tackling poverty and inequity; unemployment, particularly among the youth; consolidating national cohesion and unity; and land reforms, as well as transparency, accountability and impunity.

On 4 March, Nigeria's former foreign minister, Oluyemi Adeniji, who took over as mediator from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, announced the creation of three new bodies: the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission; the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence; and the Independent Review Committee on the 2007 elections.

The parties, he said, had defined the parameters for investigations, how the commissioners would be selected, the time-frame and the general powers of these bodies. They had also agreed on a process and roadmap for comprehensive constitutional reform.

Voluntary returns

Humanitarian agencies say progress in the talks has led to the initial relocation and return of some IDPs. A framework for finding durable solutions to post-conflict displacement is being finalised while the overall issues of relocation, resettlement and reintegration are under development. Aid agencies plan to use these strategic frameworks to guide their support and assistance once this begins in earnest.

Ramesh Rajasingham, the head of IDP policy for OCHA, said the UN in particular would assist the Kenyan government to resolve the problem of IDPs who were forced out of their homes by violence between late December and February.

Three options were available, in line with the UN's guiding principles on internal displacement: the displaced going back to the homes from where they fled; resettling in another part of the country or reintegrating in the area of displacement.

"Whatever the option, this should be done voluntarily; the UN and the government would only support the IDPs in whatever decision they make," Rajasingham said on 3 March.

The UN's 30 guiding principles on internal displacement, which were developed in the late 1990s, identify the rights and guarantees relevant for the protection of IDPs and their assistance during displacement as well as during return or resettlement or reintegration.

One of the principles relating to return, resettlement and reintegration states: "Competent authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to establish conditions, as well as provide the means, which allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country. Such authorities shall endeavour to facilitate the reintegration of returned or resettled internally displaced persons."

IDPs who have returned to their homes or who have resettled in another part of the country, the principles note, shall not be discriminated against as a result of their having been displaced.

Cooper said humanitarian actors in Kenya did not foresee an immediate resolution of the humanitarian situation and would do all they could to support IDPs in camps and those who have sought refuge with neighbours, friends and relatives.

Conflict and land

Welcoming the signing of the power-sharing agreement, she highlighted pitfalls that could occur during its implementation. The long-term problem of conflict and displacement in Kenya, she added, had a link to land and scarce resources, even before ethnicity, and solutions to the IDP situation would have to take into account land policy reform among others.

The government has set up a fund to help IDPs under the newly created department of mitigation and resettlement in the Ministry of Special Programmes. Kibaki has pledged Ksh1 billion [US$14m] towards the fund and US President George Bush has pledged a similar amount.

Cooper said the UN would support the government in reconciliation and peace-building, stabilisation and reviving livelihoods, as well as restoring and enhancing the capacity of basic services. The UN was also working with the government and other partners to prepare a resettlement policy for the IDPs.

Aid agencies estimate that up to 300,000 IDPs are in camps while a similar number could be displaced but not in camps. An estimated 1,500 people died in the post-election violence, according to government figures.

Source: IRIN