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IDPs open a new front in simmering land row

By | October 18th 2009

By Juma Kwayera

Forced resettlement of internally displaced persons is exposing Kenya’s soft underbelly, with the writing on the wall that it is a ticking time bomb.

The resentment of resettled IDPs among ‘host’ communities has rekindled passions stoked by political affiliations to the extent cultural diversity is giving way to ethnic cocooning.

However, as the embers of ethnicity smoulder, the Government is coming under criticism for failing to address pent up passions that boiled to the surface in the 2007 General Election.

The intransigence and zoning of communities in certain geographical and electoral regions reflects the impunity successive regimes have steered clear of the push for equitable distribution of national resources — particularly land that was forcibly acquired in the Rift Valley and Coast provinces.

IDP camps were closed last week. Photo: File/Standard

The Kenya Land Alliance Co-ordinator Lumumba Odenda warns of imminent land-related crisis "unless the Government stops burying its head in the sand".

He says the way the Government has handled the resettlement has sent wrong signals that IDPs who trace their ancestry to Central Kenya are being treated preferentially, while the rest have been left to their own fate.

The perception explains the revulsion of IDPs in Syokimau in Ukambani, Rongai in Nakuru, Nyandarua in Rift Valley and Taveta at the Coast.

At the core of the resistance is sharing of national resources, a recurrent subject in politics that gained prominence in 1992 when the country experienced the first ethnic violence in Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley, Coast and Nairobi that was disguised as political violence.

"What is the rationale of using the taxpayers’ money to resettle IDPs who owned property? History has shown that settlement schemes are used to curry political favours," says Odenda.

National Accord

The National Accord signed between the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the Party of National Unity (PNU) provided for the process that culminates in national cohesion and reconciliation. The centrepiece of the provision was a deliberate attempt to address the land question that has plagued the country since colonial era.

However, the matter has been pushed to the backburner and symptoms of its potency are beginning to show as IDPs resist the move to relocate to regions where the Ministry of Lands has bought land for them.

With the next general election scheduled for 2012, the Kibaki succession politics has acquired pre-eminence to the extent potential presidential candidates are giving the issue a wide berth, for now.

"This should not have been the case if the Government had undertaken to address the land question. People in Rift Valley and Coast provinces have genuine grievances. Addressing historical injustices would have resolved some of the thorny issues," says Odenda.

The Kenya Land Alliance proposes a government buyout programme of land previously owned by people displaced by election violence in 1992, 1997, 2002 and the 2007.

"Let the Government buy out the previous owners at prevailing market rates. It can use the proceeds to resettle the IDPs or give them the money to start businesses," says Odenda.

At the Coast, Special Programmes Minister Naomi Shaban says land is still unsurveyed and it would be ill advised to allow what she calls "professional squatters".

Shaban says "foreigners" are not welcome in Taveta.

Taveta land

"The land is for the people of Taveta. Professional squatters should look for settlement in their ancestral lands," says the minister, under whom the resettlement of IDPs and other landless people falls.

As testimony to how sensitive land is in regions hitherto sparsely populated, a Taveta civic leader Jasper Mruttu says local people are against resettlement schemes.

"Why deny the local people the right to own land? Land distribution is going to be a politically explosive issue. All decisions are being guided by politics, whereas the needs of the indigenous people should be given preference over other considerations," Mruttu told The Standard on Sunday.

Against this backdrop, Odenda suggests when the Government acquires land, its distribution should be on scale of 60 per cent for the indigenous and 40 per cent for non-indigenous people.

"Locals feel marginalised and resentment will set in when foreigners are preferred over them. They feel historical injustices are being perpetuated by the political class. In Rift Valley, after the white settlers left, the land was given to outsiders rather than the Kalenjin," he says.

The scale of 2007 poll violence has, however, changed the dynamics of politics, with all communities digging in to protect their ancestral land from outsiders.

Government policy

This is despite the fact that the Constitution recognises the right of all Kenyans to own property in any part of the country.

Speaking to The Standard on Sunday, Rongai MP Luka Kigen says inconsistencies in Government policy on IDP resettlement is inflaming ethnic sentiments.

"The Government’s policy last year was that it would not buy land to resettle IDPs. What has now changed?" wonders Kigen.

Concerns that the Government is playing the ethnic card is demonstrated by the lead role the provincial administration is playing in shopping and identifying land for the resettlement of IDPs.

The Ministries of Lands and Special Programmes, which ideally should lead the process, have been playing second fiddle to those of Finance and Provincial Administration.

Said Kigen, "The MPs from Rift Valley — the Kalenjin and Maasai — are not involved in buying of land in the province."

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