Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Real Face Of The IDP Problem In Kenya

Last night I went to bed a very sad woman after watching a special presentation on IDPs on TV. I won’t say I was shocked at the fact that there are IDPs in Kenya, but I will say I was disturbed at the stories they had to tell. For the most part we talk of them as a group. As the aftermath of a bungled election. It’s when their personal stories are brought to the fore that it really hits home. Kenyans are suffering big time. Their tired haunted faces are evidence of the trauma they have gone through after voting for leaders who are now too warped in power games to engage in any thoughtful reflection of their plight. The heavens have finally opened and the camps are cold, wet and damp. The ladies are lacking the much needed privacy that every woman needs sometimes. And let’s not forget the couples who crave a few moments of privacy for obvious reasons. This crucial God given part of their lives is virtually no more – at least for now. And as if that is not enough, in some camps the dark cloud of possible forceful eviction hangs over their heads every time of day.

Teresiah Wairimu had managed to rebuild her life in Burnt forest after her property was destroyed in the 1992 tribal clashes. Now she’s living in Kirathimo camp in Limuru and has lost track of her daughter and 2 grand children. She remembers painfully her house, sheep, cattle and all the other farming activities she undertook and that meant so much to her. She doubts that she can go back to Burnt Forest to risk a third round.

Kioko grew up in Mathare and knows no other home. He was the breadwinner and used to pay rent for his mother and school fees for his younger sister. During the post election violence, everything he owned was destroyed and his one hand was chopped off. His mother and sister now live in an IDP camp and the hitherto able bodied and hard working young man now looks up to friends for shelter and upkeep.

There was a lady whose name I didn’t quite get. She had built a life for herself and her children in Naivasha. After the violence she went back to her ancestral home in Siaya. She cannot go back to Naivasha since everything she owned was burned to the ground. She recently lost her last born daughter to pneumonia. She and the rest of her children are unwell too.

This is not to take you on a guilt trip for having 3 square meals a day and sleeping on a comfortable bed, but rather to highlight the suffering that our fellow Kenyans are going through. The hope they felt when the peace deal was signed on February, 28th is turning into frustration as it slowly hits home that the deal was about political maneuvering and lust for power and money. The possibility of going back home further dwindled with reports that leaflets are already circulating in some areas warning them against it. As Chris says, some of the farms already have new owners as witnessed by the young boy who sneaked out of a camp in Eldoret to go and fetch his beloved bicycle. Their worst fear is that in the new found peace, the momentum will slow and they’ll be forgotten as soon as they’re given iron sheets and nails.

It is not all doom and gloom though. Some people have gone back to their homes to start rebuilding afresh. Artists in Kibera are using their painting talents to preach messages of peace, love and brotherhood. Nakuru residents declared that they’re ready to accommodate everyone regardless of tribe, and help them rebuild their lives. There are individuals like Mary Chepkwony, popularly known as Mama Amani in her area, who along with fellow women is spearheading peace and reconciliation initiatives her own small way. Thousands more Kenyans are making small efforts. Anything anyone does will not be in vain. It will all add up to the bigger picture.

The Red Cross and other groups can only do so much. We need to keep the accelerator jammed to the floor and step up the pressure on the government until the very last one of them is resettled. As much as patience is also a form of action, it can only stretch so far.