Nairobi — The Kenyan government has discriminated based on ethnicity in assisting displaced people from the Rift Valley. The discriminatory practices are stoking inter-ethnic tensions ahead of the March 2013 elections.
Human Rights Watch research in Kenya's Central Rift's Nakuru county and North Rift's Uasin Gishu county in late 2012 revealed significantly preferential treatment for internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Kikuyu community of President Mwai Kibaki over other displaced people in the two counties. The authorities have not provided satisfactory justification for the differential treatment.
An estimated 400,000 people of various communities in the Rift Valley were displaced by inter-ethnic clashes after the last general elections in 2007. Local government officials, as well as community leaders and civil society activists, fear the government's policies have increased the chance for another round of election-related violence.
"The government is favoring one community over others in the allocation of homes, land, and money for displaced people and this is causing anger and frustration in the Rift Valley," said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director. "These policies have exacerbated tensions in an area that is still recovering from serious election-related violence five years ago, and the tensions could lead to violence again."
Kenya is due to hold general elections on March 4. In Nakuru county the most intense competition is between candidates from the Kikuyu community and those from the other large local community, the Kalenjin. Uasin Gishu county is predominantly Kalenjin with a significant Kikuyu population.
Violence in the central and northern Rift Valley between members of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities formed a significant part of the nationwide upheaval after the December 2007 elections, resulting in killings, rapes, and the forced displacement of about 650,000 people from all communities countrywide.
The violence led to indictments of people from both communities by the International Criminal Court, including two former cabinet ministers - Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto - who are now running together for president and deputy president.
In late 2012 Human Rights Watch spent one week in Nakuru county and one week in Uasin Gishu county speaking with local government officials, police, tribal elders, civic groups, and community members from the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, as well as other local communities. The prevailing view of interviewees in both counties, including government officials, was that the national government has been favoring displaced Kikuyu at the expense of other communities.
The discrimination in Nakuru and Uasin Gishu counties takes two general forms. First, the government has given priority to displaced Kikuyu when rebuilding homes and providing new homes, land, or money. Some Kikuyu families have received more than one new home.
Second, the vast majority of Kalenjin displaced in the 2007-2008 violence, roughly 300,000 people across Kenya, have not been officially registered by the Ministry for Special Programmes, which has responsibility for internally displaced people, or received any government support, Human Rights Watch research indicates.
The government says it is providing equal assistance to internally displaced people from all communities, but it refuses to collect data on the ethnic breakdown of people who have received government assistance. Collecting that data is essential to ensure that the government treats all communities in a non-discriminatory manner.
Government officials contend that it is difficult to identify displaced Kalenjin because most of them chose to stay with relatives rather than go to camps. They say these so-called "integrated IDPs" are difficult to locate and therefore register and assist.
"The government could have done much more to register and assist the displaced people who are staying with families - the so-called 'integrated IDPs'," Lefkow said. "The claim that they are difficult to find masks the government's unwillingness to provide assistance fairly to all Kenyans."
The United Nations special rapporteur on internally displaced people, citing the "de facto exclusion" of roughly 314,000 "integrated IDPs" from any "assistance, protection or durable solutions," called on Kenya in February 2012 to develop "accurate, efficient and disaggregated data-collection and database/registration systems which are comprehensive and inclusive of all categories of IDPs."
Government officials in Nakuru and Uasin Gishu confirmed for Human Rights Watch that the national government was favoring displaced Kikuyus, and some said they had advised against the practice.
A senior official in the Ministry of Internal Security told Human Rights Watch that the Ministry for Special Programmes had ignored repeated warnings about the dangers of its discriminatory policies.
"There seems to be resistance to any suggestion that this kind of bias should be changed," the security official said.
An official at the Ministry for Special Programmes was more direct: "The entire government machinery is Kikuyu and this machinery is favoring the Kikuyu on the ground," he said.
Discrimination based on race or ethnic origin in access to rights is strictly prohibited under international human rights law. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated that, "Differential treatment based on prohibited grounds will be viewed as discriminatory unless the justification for differentiation is reasonable and objective."
The Kenyan constitution prohibits direct or indirect discrimination against anyone on any grounds, including ethnic or social origin, and requires law and other measures to be put in place to ensure equality.
A new law for IDPs, the Internally Displaced Persons Act, and a new national policy for IDPs, which both came into effect in late 2012, can help with IDP protection and assistance and should be implemented by the government.
Kenya should also sign and ratify the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention), which, among other protections, forbids discrimination in the treatment of internally displaced people. Thirty-seven of Africa's 53 states have signed the convention and 16 states have ratified it.
The government's failure to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the 2007-2008 election-related violence has heightened tensions by leaving the people responsible for past violence free to repeat their actions. Only three people have been convicted for the arson, killings, and rapes from that time - all of them Kalenjin from the Rift Valley. One of the men was acquitted on appeal.
"After the terrible violence around the last elections the government had an opportunity to make landmark changes in Kenyan politics," Lefkow said. "Sadly, it has failed to take those steps and serve all communities fairly."
Key findings in Nakuru and Uasin Gishu counties about discrimination against displaced persons follow.
Discrimination Against Displaced Persons in Rift Valley
Human Rights Watch found examples of discriminatory resettlement assistance across Nakuru and Uasin Gishu counties that disproportionately benefits members of the Kikuyu community.
In Ndefo area in Njoro constituency of Nakuru county, for instance, according to a joint civil society and Kenyan government report, the government built 908 housing units for Kikuyu IDPs on one side of a road and 34 on the other side for Kalenjin, even though all communities in the area were affected by violence and had similar numbers of displaced people.
In the Kuresoi area of Nakuru county - one of the areas most affected by the 2007-2008 violence - the government resettled Kikuyu IDPs displaced from Kuresoi and other areas in and around Sanyo, giving them new houses and tilling land for them with tractors. In the same area, an equally large group of Kalenjin displaced from 2007-2008 has received no government support.
The government has also resettled some Kikuyu IDPs in the middle of Kalenjin-inhabited areas, such as Sanyo and Banita in Rongai, without adequately consulting the host communities, local community leaders said.
In both places, Human Rights Watch saw newly built homes and freshly dug roads for resettled Kikuyu. Local officials and Kalenjin community leaders said the resettlement had caused great resentment among local Kalenjin, who said they fear the government is trying to alter demographics prior to the March elections.
Two government officials in Nakuru county, as well as Kikuyu community members, told Human Rights Watch that the government also has a practice of giving internally displaced Kikuyu more than one house per family, even though the majority of displaced Kalenjin in the county have received none. A joint assessment report compiled by the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) made similar observations in 2011.
A displaced Kikuyu who was resettled in Kuresoi told Human Rights Watch that the government first built her a three-bedroom house in April 2009 and two years later, with the support of an international aid agency, a second, two-bedroom house.
"I know a number of Kikuyus who have up to three houses," she said. "Those Kikuyus whose children were above 18 benefited even more because all their adult children were also given houses."
Kalenjin elders and community members in Nakuru and Uasin Gishu counties told Human Rights Watch that they saw the resettlement of Kikuyu IDPs in their areas as a strategic effort by the government to increase Kikuyu votes prior to the elections and generally to shift the political balance of communities in the region.
In addition to displaced communities from the 2007-2008 electoral violence, the Central Rift Valley has about 15,000 displaced people who were forced from the Mau Forest in July 2009, all of them Kalenjin. The government ordered these people to leave their homes due to concerns over environmental conservation projects, promising to resettle them within weeks. As of late 2012 only about 700 of these people had been resettled.
Kalenjin elders and community members expressed deep resentment and anger at their discriminatory treatment, with many saying that it could provoke violence. At the same time Kikuyu leaders and community members say they are getting prepared for violence.
"This time we shall not be caught unawares and we shall not be the ones running away or getting displaced," a Kikuyu farmer in Kuresoi told Human Rights Watch.
A senior government official in the Rift Valley told Human Rights Watch that he frequently hears bellicose claims from both communities. He and others said that cattle theft is up in the area, which they called an early warning sign of violence.
In 2007 and earlier, local communities used traditional weapons, such as machetes, spears, and bows and arrows, to fight each other. Today, local officials and community leaders told Human Rights Watch that both Kikuyu and Kalenjin are preparing for possible violence with firearms as well as those weapons.
In addition to people displaced in the election-related violence of 2007-2008, according to the United Nations, more than 112,000 Kenyans were displaced in 2012 due to communal and resource-based violence.