(One of) The Problem(s) with Internal Displacement Discourse in Kenya

Internal displacement refers to the forcible movement of habitants in a country from one place in the country to another. Unlike the refugees, internally displaced persons do not cross internationally recognized boundaries. Internally displacement persons (IDPs) are forced to move from their habitual residence owing to human rights abuses, violence or development projects. Such people need protection of the state to guarantee their rights before, during and after displacement.

In Kenya, the IDP phenomenon has been popularised by the sad events following the disputed 2007 general elections. For those readers that may not be aware, in 2007 Kenya erupted into bloody chaos after the declaration of the then incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, as the president of the republic thereby heralding his second term in office. His main rival in the polls, Raila Odinga, disputed the results of the elections and supporters of both men went into a killing frenzy uprooting people from their homes in the process. Much can be said about the events such as their cause and who was ultimately responsible but that would be out of the scope of this post.

It is estimated that about 600,000 people (120,000 households) were displaced. A majority of them went into what were called IDP camps while others vanished into towns and other settlements to live with family and friends, the so called ‘integrated IDPs’.Images of these camps were beamed all over the world and stories of untold suffering laid bare in front of an international audience. During this time the term IDP became so common that it has almost instantly been tied to the phenomenon of post-election violence (PEV). Therein lies the problem.

That the term IDP has been strongly attached to PEV forced evictions presents a challenge to robustly addressing the issue of internal displacement in the country. This is manifested by the announcement by the Government that they have addressed all the issues of IDPs arising from PEV which has been translated in most quarters that there are no IDPs in Kenya. If one visits some of the areas struck with cases of perennial displacement, using the term IDP is almost a taboo among most Government officials because to them the situation was resolved by the Government and that the official Government line is that the IDP situation is an out tray issue. This is despite the glaring contradicting evidence on the ground.

Examples of these cases would further illustrate the problem. Let us first look at the implementation of the Prevention, Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons and Host Community Act, 2012 otherwise known as the IDP Act. The Act was passed in 2012 but until now it is yet to be fully implemented in spite of the mounting evidence that the country is still grappling with issues of internal displacement. However from the perspective of the Government the Act is being implemented and the corner stone of this argument is that they have managed to compensate some 8000 families affected by the PEV.

Whereas it is laudable that the Government has made good efforts to seek lasting solutions for the PEV internal displacement victims, the overemphasis on this group overshadows the purpose for which the Act was enacted. This is evident from how new cases of displacement have been handled. For example the Mpeketoni attacks in Lamu County that happened in June this year left over 1000 households as IDPs. No profiling was done by the Government and very little assistance was provided through the Directorate of Special Programmes in the Ministry of Devolution and Planing as is specified in the IDP Act. The same was the case in the the Rhamu attacks in Mandera County. This post attributes this to the overemphasis on PEV IDPs to the detriment of instituting a nationwide system that can systematically handle internal displacement issues in the country.

Furthermore, this overemphasis of the PEV IDPs has led to the creation of a way of thinking that IDPs are only those people who are displaced by violence or armed conflict. This means that people displaced to pave way for development projects are often ignored in the process. An example of this would be Kenyans forcibly removed from their lands in the Coast region to pave way for development or economic projects. Many a times it is reported as squatters being evicted from land but a closer look into most of these stories reveal a displacement pattern. This post attributes this line of thinking to the overemphasis of PEV IDPs as one of the causes.

There is also a popularization of a camp based IDP. In Kenya, when one talks about an IDP it conjures images of desolate human beings living in decrepit camp settings. This is mainly thanks to the image that was painted by the media of these IDPs. However next to nothing is said about those that never went into the camps; the so called ‘integrated IDPs.’ Despite the misgivings of this post on using the term ‘integrated’ there is a real issue here. Those people who were displaced and never went to the camps were never compensated further reinforcing the idea that camp IDPs are the real IDPs, something that may have contributed to fake IDP camps and fake IDPs sprouting all of the time.

Finally, there is another category of IDPs often overshadowed by the PEV IDPs. These group are the pre-PEV IDPs; Kenyans that were displaced prior to the unfortunate events of 2007/08. They too seem to have been forgotten like those displaced by the development projects in Kenya. It is as if they do not exist and that the IDP chapter only begins with the PEV IDPs and may very well end with them.

One of the problems with internal displacement discourse in Kenya is the overemphasis on the PEV IDPs. This post is in no way implying that PEV IDPs are not an important category of IDPs that need assistance, it is rather pointing out that they are a fraction of IDPs in Kenya. The overemphasis on PEV IDPs coupled with the announcement by the Government that there are no more IDPs in Kenya makes the efforts to prevent, protect and assist older cases as well as new cases of internal displacement a huge challenge. More effort should be put in sensitizing Kenyans as well as the fourth estate on the definition and portrait of an IDP so that all may grasp a larger picture of the internal displacement situation in Kenya. In the same breath, the Government ought to fully implement the IDP Act to ensure that older and new cases of internal displacement are systematically handled.