Massive internal displacements due to politically instigated ethnic clashes

en fr


Forced internal displacements are an acute and sensitive issue in Kenya. According to the more recent statistics provided by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are around 380,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kenya. This places the country at the 7th rank in Africa in terms of numbers of IDPs.

Through interviews with members of the National IDPs Network, a Kenyan NGO, the FIDH delegates which took part in an international mission of investigation held in Kenya from January 19 to 25, 2007, established with concern that IDPs in Kenya are facing a disastrous humanitarian situation.

Forced to leave their original place of living, IDPs often lost all their properties and are obliged to start a new life without perspective of safe return, resettlement, or compensation. If not “hosted” in isolated camps like the Kieni village visited by the FIDH delegates, IDPs are usually landless, and labelled as squatters or slum dwellers. In such living conditions, they face difficulties to find a job or a source of income to pay for medicine or the school fees of the children. Access to public health facilities is also compromised.

Except from urgent assistance provided by humanitarian organisations for one or two months after their displacement, IDPs are left alone, as until now no particular attention was given to their situation by national authorities or United Nations agencies.

Amongst the various causes of displacements such as floods, droughts, fights between communities for basic resources, the FIDH delegates decided to focus their investigation on displacements due to politically instigated ethnic clashes at the time of general elections considering that the issue is not well known by the international community and does not find adequate political response at the national level. This focus also aimed at contributing to prevention of new IDPs in the country as Kenya will hold its next general election in 2007.

Politically motivated ethnic clashes started one year before the December 1992 first multi-party general elections, when KANU leaders (presidential party of Arap Moi) who wanted at any cost to preserve their political, social and economic “privileges” fuelled ethnic rivalries into violence in many parts of the Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western Provinces. Pro-governmental communities were intended by governors of Provinces and other leaders of the previous one-party regime, to “secure” that their constituency be “cleaned” from other communities viewed as opposition supporters. As a consequence of the State-sponsored violence, many displaced Kenyans as well as those in the clash-torn zones were unable to register as voters or were barred from voting by violence and intimidation. Violence continued relentlessly in the post-election period until 1996. According to KHRC, from 1991 to 1996, over 15,000 people died and almost 300,000 were displaced in the Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western Provinces. In the run-up to the 1997 elections, fresh violence erupted on the Coast, killing over 100 people and displacing over 100,000, mostly pro-opposition people. Other incidences of politically instigated clashes were experienced between 1999 and 2005 mostly in the Rift Valley, Nyanza and the Western Kenya regions.

As the FIDH report points out, this violence aimed at creating animosity between communities to split their political inclinations, to frighten whole communities and induce them to vote for the ruling party as a guarantee for their security, or to drive out communities with divergent political view from specific electoral areas. Such recurrent violence every five years at the time of the general elections was facilitated by the fact that the perpetrators and instigators still benefit from impunity. This on-going impunity is indeed worrisome for the near future considering the forthcoming 2007 general elections. There are already many indicators of violence in Subukia, Gucha, Laikoni and Mount Elgon which seems to have been fuelled for political reasons and which led to the forced displacement of hundreds of persons in April 2007.

FIDH and KHRC demand to the Kenyan authorities to decisively deal with politically instigated ethnic clashes at the time of general elections. The Kenyan government should formulate a policy and administrative framework for the prevention of such displacements. One of the main tools to achieve such prevention is to effectively fight against impunity through prompt arrest and prosecution of those individuals responsible for fuelling ethnic clashes for political gain.

FIDH and KHRC also call upon the Kenyan authorities to consider IDPs as vulnerable individuals and as such to immediately take all the necessary measures to respect their rights, notably the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health and medical care, the right to work and the right for return, resettlement and reintegration, as guaranteed in the international instruments ratified by Kenya and in the United Nations Guiding Principles on IDPs.

Read more