(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.

Obama’s Strategy against I.S. in Syria likely to Fail

Over the recent months, the threat of the Islamic State has thrived. This has led many governments, mostly western, to come together and discuss on how to respond to it. No tangible results have so far come out of these meetings but the recent beheading of an American journalist, Steven Sotloff appears to have been the proverbial final straw. A plan led by the American government appears to be under way.

On 10th of September, a day before the commemoration of the most blatant terrorist attack on American soil, President Obama presented his plan on defeating the Islamic State.The plan had four points: air strikes, non combat support to Iraqi Government and Syrian opposition forces on the ground, counter-terrorism strategies and humanitarian assistance. In essence, Obama’s plan is to have people of Iraq and Syria fight I.S. forces themselves as the Americans provide sustained air power.

This plan is in line with Obama’s overall foreign policy on American troops fighting on foreign soil. This is the corner stone of his pledges in 2008 and 2012 along with the spectacular claim that he would close Guantanamo Bay base within 100 days. The US has already began the draw back from Iraq and it is highly unlikely that they would risk the lives of more American troops in protracted combat situations such as the one currently going on in Syria.

Obama’s plan, however, may work in Iraq but meet limited success in Syria. This is because of the current conflict between forces loyal to the Government of Bashar al Assad and those loyal to the various opposition factions. Obama’s plan is to arm the opposition fighters to equip them to meet the objective of eliminating the I.S. threat in Syria and perhaps in the long term meet the opposition’s objective of dethroning Assad. However a critical assessment must be drawn up on the capability of these opposition forces to fight on two fronts.

It is a well known fact that political and military objectives can work cross purposely and the Syrian situation is a good example. Whereas it is politically understandable for Obama to snub the Assad regime, is it militarily sound? The opposition forces fighting Assad’s Government, in my opinion, appear not to have the strength to fight a war on two fronts. In the past three years they have been unable to dislodge Assad’s regime. How feasible is it for them to now be equipped to fight both I.S. and Assad’s regime?

Secondly with direct military engagement being ruled out, Obama has to rely on opposition forces. However there is the issue of command and control over the opposition forces. Americans need to be certain that they are not walking into another Libyan situation in the Middle East. The Syrian opposition does not appear to be as united to inspire confidence that arms provided to them would not end up in the hands of the I.S. fighters. We should all remember that fighters are being recruited by I.S. and it not unimaginable that some opposition fighters disgruntled by the divisions apparent in the Syrian opposition may defect to I.S. with the weapons provided by the American Government.

With this in mind, the American Government ought to be cautious on how to approach I.S. in Syria. The dilemma for Obama is how to ensure that the objectives of destroying I.S. do not lead to the strengthening of I.S. He also needs to think about whether limited association with Assad for the purposes of defeating I.S. may be militarily prudent over the political objective of having him removed. All in all, it would be difficult for Obama to implement his plan in Syria without the support of the Syrian Government.

International Anarchy is an Inexact Indicator in Accessing Causes of War

Over the past few weeks I have taken to the study of causes of war. To this end I am currently reviewing a book by Levy and Thompson (2010) titled Causes of War. Therein they set out the various explanations authored by other theorists on the causes of war. They use the levels of analysis fronted by Kenneth Waltz to group sources of indicators that could explain the variations in the causes of war. Among the levels is the international system which has among others, international anarchy as a variable that could be used to explain the presence of war.

The two authors opine that realist theories dominate the explanations of occurrence or otherwise of war in this level of analysis. One of the assumptions offered by the realist theories is that international anarchy makes war more likely to happen. International anarchy has been defined as the lack of a legitimate international government to settle disputes and enforce law and order. This simply means that there is no world government to police global affairs thus making war more probable.

This assertion appears spurious at best. Before dismissing my humble opinion on an already readily accepted ‘fact’ of international affairs, please read on first. International anarchy does not vary much for any person to conclude that it may play a vital role in the cause of war. In fact, it has not varied at all since the creation of the present international system. This fact leads me to conclude that international anarchy, which is not a variable, cannot be used to explain the presence or absence of war, which is a variable. 

When a phenomenon varies, then the causal variables should vary to explain the variation. If international anarchy, as defined by realist of which is internationally acceptable, is constant it cannot be used to explain war which varied from time to time. For instance it would be foolhardy to state that international anarchy makes war possible whereas it existed in cases of relative peace. In other words international anarchy cannot be used to explain situations where war is present and absent if anarchy itself does not vary in both times of war and peace. 

Therefore international anarchy cannot be as an indicator in assessing the causes of war. How else could we explain presence of world wars in the 20th century and its absence in the 21st century if international anarchy still exists in both periods? Yes, international anarchy does not cause wars but the explanation that it makes wars more probable also cannot be empirically verified. It is thus important to be cautious on how much we rely on international anarchy to create theories or explanations of causes of war. Just a thought!