Page last updated at 20:48 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 21:48 UK

Kenya faces resettlement problem

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Nairobi

Displaced couple in western Kenya Feb 08
Hundreds of thousands fled their homes in the post-election violence

Addressing the issue of resettling the tens of thousands of people displaced in post-election violence will be the first significant test of Kenya's new coalition government.

It is no surprise that a quarter of the members of Kenya's new super-sized cabinet are from the Rift Valley - the area worst affected by the post-election violence.

They are under pressure to satisfy the demands of, on the one hand, constituents who are among those living in squalid displaced people's camps, and, on the other hand, those who forcibly evicted them in the weeks following Kenya's disputed presidential election.

Most of the 140,000 people living in flimsy tents and now reliant on food handouts will not go back home until their security has been guaranteed.

We need to... talk to people on the ground, understand their concerns and preach coexistence
Rift Valley MP Frankline Bett

Stories are already emerging of attempts by some people to return briefly to their villages being thwarted as they are chased away by rival communities.

More police have been deployed to the area, but many people in the camps see this as a "show" or "window-dressing" - far from reassuring.

Underlying tensions

The position of the coalition government is to resettle the internally displaced people as soon as possible while beginning a process of facing up to the underlying historical tensions that bubbled to the surface during the post-election period.

But many parliamentarians are opposed to this approach.

Rift Valley MP Frankline Bett argues that communities need to be prepared before the return of the displaced.

"We need to set up a committee to talk to people on the ground, understand their concerns and preach co-existence, otherwise the children of the displaced now, will be displaced Kenyans of the future as old problems come back to haunt us."

Rioting in Kenya Jan 08
About 1,500 people were killed in the post-election violence

Certainly the language that is use in Rift Valley between "rival" communities is hostile.

Many Kikuyu are referred to as "foreigners" by the Kalenjin community who feel threatened by the presence of "outsiders" and argue they should return to their "ancestral lands" in neighbouring Central Province.

Many Kikuyu have never lived in Central Province - neither have their parents.

They consider the fertile Rift Valley home.

Land distribution

At the root of the resettlement issue is land. It is important to understand that in Kenya, land is not simply real estate.

It is bound up with ethnicity, cultural identity and heritage that has made it a political hot potato since independence.

Land is also a means of survival for the large numbers of Kenyans who are subsistence farmers.

Until economic development takes it is natural course, leaving fewer Kenyans dependent on shrinking amounts of land, it will have to be resolved to break the cycle of land disputes that erupts every time Kenyans go to the polls.

Seventy-five per cent of Kenyans still live in rural areas yet there are enormous inequalities in the way land is distributed.

Half of all the cultivable land in Kenya is owned by 20% of the population.

A significant number of them form part of a powerful political elite.

The Kenyattas, the Kibakis and the Moi family hold large swathes of land. Land buys influence, power and patronage.

It has been that way since before independence in 1963.

The fertile Rift Valley was known as the White Highlands under British Colonial rule.

Members of the new Kenyan coalition government
The leaders of the new government must tackle deep-rooted problems

At independence, the land was centrally controlled by the Kenyatta government and sold to Kenyans.

The Kikuyu community in the years that followed did particularly well under this arrangement forming land-buying companies which assisted in the settlement of large numbers of Kikuyus in the Rift Valley.

Truth and reconciliation

Unresolved questions remain about how exactly the land was acquired and how so much ended up in the hands of one community in an ethnically diverse Kenya.

It is one of the issues that will have to be tackled by a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission soon to be convened as part of February's peace deal.

The challenges that Kenya faces over land include how it has been distributed, how it is registered and how disputes are resolved.

The lack of transparency has made it a fertile ground for fraud.

It is not uncommon to find the title deeds of one piece of land sold over and over again to different customers.

Inevitably, it is the poor that lose out.

According to one development analyst "only 20% of landowners in Kenya actually hold title for the land, this represents about 4.5 million people... of these about 250,000 of the title deeds are fake..."

In 2004, a commission of inquiry under Paul N'dung'u was established to address some of these issues.

In 2005, President Mwai Kibaki endorsed the commission but lamentably little has been done since then.

It could take up to two years for the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to come up with a plan.

Kenyans cannot wait that long.

New land policy

Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, appointed by Kofi Annan to chair a reconciliation team which is expected to draw up a roadmap for addressing Kenya's problems, is quite clear about the way ahead.

On the shelves in the Ministry of Lands is a land policy for Kenya which, though a commendable attempt to start to confront the issue, has been gathering dust on a shelf.

The land policy is a blueprint for addressing the land issue, juggling the competing demands of pastoralists and agriculturalists, commercial and residential interests.

But the land policy got buried under the weight of other parliamentary business and never saw the light of day.

"We would hope that the grand coalition will take up a draft bill which was submitted to parliament (based on the land policy) and ensure solutions can be found to some of these problems," says Mr Adeniji.

"It is going to mean give and take and compromise but these men and women have to show leadership."

With a new spirit of compromise and a coalition government, expectations among some Kenyans are running high.

When President Kibaki addressed crowds at the start of his reconciliation tour of Rift Valley, he beamed in his native Kiswahili "you will get your title deeds".

The crowds cheered in response. There is no doubt there were good intentions in those words.

But if Kenyans are expecting a wholesale redistribution of land, rather than a set of guiding principles for the future, they may be sorely disappointed.

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