Kenya: Integration Ends Feuds Between Refugees and Residents

The Dadaab refugee camp (file photo).
8 February 2021

Since the inception of Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana County, there has been a push and pull between refugees and the host community.

For decades, the relationship between the refugees and the local Turkana ethnic group had been strained by several violent incidents, giving the national government and the United Nations Refugee Agency a headache for years.

However, the situation has changed over the years, with both sides now embracing one another after the national, county governments and development partners showed commitment to cultivating integration at Kakuma Refugee Camp.

Refugees and the Turkana community say they are no longer at loggerhead with one another, something they acknowledge has improved their livelihoods as a result of doing business.

This integration is a result of the establishment of the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement.

Water scarcity was the main cause of tension because refugees would get the all-important resource at the expense of the host community.

"In the past, we have been having issues with refugees because they used to discriminate against us. We could not use their water or health facilities, but now, we share a lot, trade ... even this market, it is built for them but we all use it," said Mr Lochuro Lokele Nyanga, a Turkana businessman at Natukobenyo fresh food market.

The integration has gone a notch higher, with each side learning the other's culture.

"Now there is no conflict with the host community, we share markets, greenhouses, water; we intermarry and learn the traditional ways from each other. For example, some of us never used to eat cabbage and they never used to eat mrenda (jute mallow) but that has changed," said Mr Hajim Jacob, a refugee trader at Natukobenyo fresh food market.

"Refugees are now providing us with a huge market for our products, including charcoal, and that is why we live in harmony. There are no conflicts like before when we used to be sidelined on our land," said Ms Anne Lobur Achwaa, the treasurer of the market.

Refugees and locals relating better

According to camp manager Kasili Mutambo, refugees and locals are relating better.

"When we launched a common market within, locals demanded that refugees come out and do business ... it is on a 50-50 basis. Schools, water, hospitals. There is interdependence and a study by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank, 3 per cent of Turkana's GDP depends on refugees," said Mr Mutambo.

Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok argued that the settlement was to exploit the socio-economic impact of refugees on Turkana. It was perceived that host populations were worse off than their guests, in terms of access to schools, health care and business opportunities.

Refugees that have been living in the Kakuma camps since 1992 have also been expressing frustrations regarding limitations placed on their freedom of movement, which prevented their full participation in the socio-economic aspects of the country that had welcomed them.

"Generally, why my administration backed the idea of establishing the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement was to make refugees an integral part of the economic development of the proposed Kakuma/Kalobeyei Municipality through integration to ensure self-reliance and poverty reduction," said the county boss.

For instance, the Turkana County Government and World Food Programme (WFP) have already partnered to establish three markets at Kakuma in Turkana West Sub County to enhance trade between refugees and the host community.

With funding from the European Union Trust Fund, the Sh23 million Natukobenyo, Tumaini and Towokayeni fresh produce markets are strategically built to cultivate integration through consistent interaction.

WFP Deputy Country Director Emmanuel Bigenimana said functional and efficient local markets for fresh foods and vegetables grown under irrigation at Kalobeyei and Kakuma are critical in achieving zero hunger among vulnerable communities.

Trade was critical for promoting harmony between the two groups, said Mr Pius Ewoton, the Kenya National Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Turkana Chapter Chairman.

"Markets in Kakuma have unique products due to different cultures and nationalities. With huge numbers of locals and refugees within Kakuma, there will be an increase in both revenues for the county and income for traders," he said.

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