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Tale of IDPs stuck in forest 20 years after deadly tribal chaos

By BY ERIC WAINAINA | June 18th 2013


‘The Grey Gardens’, a film documentary by Albert and David Maysles that depicts the everyday lives of a mother and daughter living in a decrepit home, might not be uglier than the state of Huruma IDP camp in Kieni Forest, Kiambu County.

The camp, located in Kieni Forest in Thika District, sits on a 3.5 acre piece of land and hosts more than 4,500 IDPs who have borne the brunt of ethnic clashes.

Here, life is just unbearable to the inhabitants. But do they really have an alternative?

Walking through the narrow, grime-filled footpaths leading to the hovels, you are met by a group of youths in idle chat, killing time.

A multitude of crumbling mud-walled shacks line both sides of the settlement that hundreds of families call home.

For nearly two decades now, displaced persons have lived with the hope that each day will bring their miseries to an end. But this has not been the case.


In 2001, the households, then with a population of 1,800 people who had fled political unrest in Rift Valley in 1992 and 1997, moved to the forest with the Government’s permission as a temporary measure while they awaited resettlement.

Forest officials allowed them to participate in the Non-Residential Cultivation (NRC) programme (Shamba system), which allows farmers to plant crops and trees on forestland while tending to young trees.

But years later, the IDPs remain encamped in the forest and have been accusing the State of denying them their right to adequate shelter and freedom of movement, and that they have had to endure abuse from forest authorities.

Classified as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ by the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing in 2004, conditions in Kieni Forest remain bleak despite the Government’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance.

Camp chairman Gad Wainaina says after the clashes they first camped in the forest in 1992 and 1993 before being ordered by the Government to vacate in 2000.

They camped along Flyover along Thika Road but in 2001, the Government permitted them to return to the forest and gave them a 3.5 acre piece of land to set up houses, still as a temporary measure.

The village consists of 11 rows of 50 13 by 13 feet bamboo houses roofed with polythene tents called “cubes” by their inhabitants.

“We are still living with the hopes of resettlement. Many promises have been made in the past. Politicians have visited and shed tears but we are still here,” Wainaina told The Standard.

But Gatundu North District Commissioner Daniel Nyameti said the Government was aware of the existence of  Kieni IDP camp.


“They have been captured in Government records and the matter is being handled. The resettlement has taken long but when the piece of land to resettle them is identified, they will be moved from the camp,” Mr Nyameti told The Standard on phone.

The families say they were evicted from Enosupukia, Mau Narok, Njoro, Burnt Forest, Tinderet, Eldoret and Londiani in Rift Valley during ethnic clashes. The violence had devastating effects, with over 1,000 people killed, many villages burnt to the ground and residents forced to flee to safer grounds.

Human rights organisations estimated that the number of those killed in the clashes by November 1993 was at least 1,500 while those displaced being about 300,000.

49-year-old Florence Wambui, a victim from Mau Narok, said the situation in the camp continues to worsen day by day. And if someone dies, their body is preserved in the house until burial day, which takes place in a cemetery located about seven kilometres away since they are not allowed to bury people in the forest.

“We live and do things against our customs. There is neither a church, hospital nor a school near us. We only get help from well wishers because the Government seems to have forgotten us,” she lamented.


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