Operation Return Home Unless You Want to be Beaten

A few weeks back the Irish Foreign Minister visited the displaced people in Kenya. He was introduced to the crowds at Kitale’s stadium by the District Commissioner. It was a flying visit, but it wasn’t difficult to pick up the fear among people in the camps: No-one wanted to go home until security was improved, compensation sorted and – above all – until the tribes that went to war in the wake of disputed elections had worked out how to live side by side again.
A fortnight later, AP reported armed police began forcing people out of Kitale.

Barasa said his wife was at first reluctant to leave. But she changed her mind when she saw a district official beat another woman to the ground with a log when she questioned the order. The woman curled up in the mud as the official rained blows on her for nearly five minutes, said Carrier, the head of Doctors Without Borders.

The district official? Oh yes, the same District Commissioner that is so happy to meet visiting dignitaries. It’s an extreme example, but once again it seems short-term solutions are preferred to real reconciliation. As the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute points out, the tribal clashes stem from long-standing problems. The displacements have happened before and will happen again.

The displacement crisis following the 2007 elections is thus not an anomaly; rather, it is part of a sequence of recurrent displacement stemming from unresolved and politically aggravated land grievances, in a context of population growth, poor governance and socio-economic insecurity. Simply focusing on facilitating the return of people displaced in the current crisis, in the absence of efforts to address the underlying structural causes, risks creating the conditions for further rounds of violence and fresh displacement.

So how are the talks going? You remember, the ones set up by Kofi Annan to tackle exactly those underlying structural causes? Not well it seems. When I last checked the UN spokesman for the negotiations said that the two teams of five politicians were slightly distracted. All 10 are now ministers in the bloated Kenyan cabinet.

“The new ministers are first time ministers, and are ministers for ministries that did not exist before so they are dealing with a lot of logistical issues, struggling for office space and things like that,” he says. “It’s not that they are neglecting talks but they are under a lot of pressure.”

Which is a polite way of saying that the politicians got what they wanted and screw everyone else.