Same old problems for Kenya’s newest refugee settlement

Kalobeyei was supposed to be different. Refugees here would be self-reliant. They would be integrated with the local community in a mutually beneficial arrangement of shared services and bustling markets. And it would all cost a lot less for Western aid donors.

But it hasn’t quite worked as planned.

Kalobeyei, in Kenya’s remote northwest, was built to decongest nearby Kakuma camp and attract the more entrepreneurially-minded refugees who could take advantage of the tiny plots of land on offer and trade with the local community.

The World Food Programme provides a $14 monthly cash allowance for each family, which it says is enough to cover 80 percent of minimum needs. The 40,000 refugees are expected to supplement that stipend.

The problem is that Kalobeyei was established just as South Sudan’s civil war intensified. With Kakuma full, people have been arriving in Kalobeyei with little more than the clothes on their backs � and without the resources to make a go of it.

Jean-Marie Shamalima, who fled Burundi’s brutal civil war last year, is the kind of refugee Kalobeyei was designed to accommodate.

Beside his shack, constructed out of tarpaulin and corrugated iron, are rows of okra, beans, and spinach growing in a small sunken bed. It’s an incongruous sight in the middle of the arid Turkana region.

He arrived when the settlement opened, and his seeds were among the few possessions he brought with him.


Kalobeyei, built by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in conjunction with the local Turkana county government is an integrated settlement. That means it aims to provide economic benefits and services to host and refugee communities alike, including schools, hospitals, and marketplaces where Shamalima can sell his produce.

“It was difficult when we first arrived. There wasn’t a lot of water available. But now things are improving and I’m growing lots of different vegetables,” Shamalima said, gesturing proudly to his five-by-six-metre plot.

I sell my spinach and okra in the market place, he explained. It provides me with an extra income so that I can buy clothes and seeds to grow more crops to sell.

But even he struggles to make ends meet.

For other refugees it’s harder still. A 20-kilo bag of just maize flour, the staple carbohydrate � enough to last a family of five for a month � costs around $9 and one litre of oil is $2.50. WFP’s $14 allowance hardly covers the basics.

I buy maize, beans, onions and oil with the money I get and it’s barely enough for us to eat,” South Sudanese refugee Mary Naduru, a mother of four, told IRIN.

Kalobeyei is a new model for Kenya. It is an acknowledgment that Kakuma, and the larger Dadaab camp in the northeast, are outmoded. They are in effect refugee islands sucking up dwindling donor aid.

Although the new looser settlement model doesn’t go as far as neighbouring Uganda, where refugees have free movement, the right to work, and access social services anywhere in the county, Kalobeyei offers a part-solution in a country where the politics of asylum is highly charged.

“The ultimate aim is to make Kalobeyei a self-serving, self-reliant settlement, Neville Agoro of the Danish Refugee Council told IRIN. The idea wasn’t to make people rely on humanitarian agencies from the start.

But there is a large wrinkle. So long as we keep on bringing people who’ve just arrived from South Sudan, bringing them to Kalobeyei and trying to [introduce] self-reliance is not possible, he added.

New arrivals get a patch of ground to grow food on, and that’s it � not even seeds and tools or training.

They just tell us ‘this is your house, this is your garden’, and then just leave us to get on with it,” said Mary Naduru, who fled South Sudan two months ago.

“I would like to plant vegetables here, but I don’t have the money or the resources to buy seeds or tools, said Mary Tioko, from drought-hit northern Uganda. I really look forward to doing that, but it’s not an option for me at the moment.

With no source of income other than WFP’s monthly cash transfer, Tioko often goes hungry, counting the days until the month is over.

“The money we get isn’t enough to stretch across the family, she told IRIN. Food prices are expensive here, which makes things difficult for us. There’s no food for us right now.


And that’s not all. Turkana is dry, inhospitable land. Additional boreholes drilled to cope with the settlement’s expanding population have failed, coming up with saline water unfit for human consumption.

“Sometimes there’s no water to irrigate the garden. Without water, the beans don’t grow very well in these harsh conditions,” said Ernest Nakiru, a South Sudanese refugee.

Land allocated to build the settlement was agreed by the local county government, community committee groups, and UNHCR, but is becoming an increasingly sore point between the local Turkana community and new refugee arrivals.

To make a success of Kalobeyei, the refugees � Shamalima included � need more land, otherwise it’s just hand to mouth.

I pray that I’m given more land so that I can grow more crops, he told IRIN. I’d like to try and grow other varieties of spinach as well as growing aubergines, but the land I have isn’t big enough.

The politics of land distribution in Kenya is already a highly contentious issue, so it’s unlikely that local politicians will allow refugees to own land outside designated areas like Kalobeyei.

The pastoralist Turkana have been historically marginalised, their region under-developed by successive governments in distant Nairobi. The Kalobeyei settlement has generated large expectations within the local community, who have seen their pastures and earnings shrink as a result of erratic rains.

The project was supposed to be on a 50:50 basis, said Rukia Lotinga, a village elder involved in community negotiations over the settlement. The agreements were that anything the refugees got, the host community will have to benefit in the same, equal manner.

That, she said, is why we gave away our grazing land to the UN.

But, she insisted, that the promise has not been honoured. So far what’s been delivered is not enough. Refugees are getting development, but the host community hasn’t seen much.

It’s a powerful perception of injustice, built up over the years of neglect by the authorities.

Though Turkana trade firewood, charcoal and animals with the refugees, they also worry about the long-term impact on the already resource-stretched environment around them.

We won’t stop cutting the trees because we need [money] to sustain our livelihoods, said Lotinga. [But] If the forest dies, so do our livestock, and we’ll be finished ourselves unless we see support from aid agencies.”

Despite her concerns, Lotinga believes that ultimately the Kalobeyei project can benefit both communities.

“We still want to benefit from having refugees around � that’s not the issue, she said. If refugees were to leave Turkana, our people would really suffer.”

Source: IRIN

South Sudan Says No Hint That Dead American Was Journalist

JUBA �There was no indication that an American shot dead over the weekend was a journalist, South Sudan’s army said Tuesday, accusing him of entering the country with rebel forces.

“Anybody who comes attacking us with hostile forces will meet his fate,” army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said, warning that any journalists entering the civil war-torn east African nation illegally will not be protected.

The 28-year-old Christopher Allen, a freelance journalist, was killed Saturday amid fighting between government and rebel forces near the Ugandan border. His body was handed over to the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday.

Government troops “targeted” Allen when they saw him taking photos during the fighting, opposition spokesman William Gatjiath Deng said. The opposition says Allen was wearing a large vest with the word “Press.”

Allen was shot in the head with a “large bullet,” the army’s chief medical officer, Dr. Peter Ajak Bullen, said, but he couldn’t confirm that the American was killed at close range.

It is not clear who shot Allen. “Bullets don’t know color or race,” the army spokesman told journalists.

The opposition’s deputy spokesman, Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, has said Allen and two other journalists were embedded with the rebels on a two-week mission after coming from Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

Allen is the 10th journalist and the first international journalist to be killed in South Sudan since 2012, according to the United Nations. South Sudan is one of the harshest places in the world for journalists, according to press freedom groups. In the past few months, 15 South Sudanese journalists have been detained, beaten or denied access to information, according to the Union of Journalists in South Sudan, and more than 20 foreign journalists have been denied entry or kicked out.

South Sudan’s civil war is well into its fourth year, with tens of thousands of people killed. The fighting, often along ethnic lines, defies peace deals and unilateral cease-fires.

Source: Voice of America


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South Sudan Rebels: Slain Journalist Was Not Combatant

JUBA South Sudan’s main rebel group says an American journalist shot and killed while embedded with rebels Saturday was not taking part in a battle against government forces.Christopher Allen was shot in the head by government forces at the Kaya border…

Kenya Bans Plastic Bags

NAIROBI � Kenya has become the latest African country to ban the use of polythene plastic bags, imposing stiff fines and even jail time for anyone found using, importing or manufacturing the bags.

In one of the biggest garbage dumping sites in Nairobi, it was business as usual Monday. Loads of plastic bags full of garbage were brought in, a testament to their widespread use in the capital.

But no more, says the government.

A new law went into effect Monday making the manufacture, sale and use of polythene plastic bags illegal. Offenders can get slapped with penalties up to a four-year jail term and a $40,000 fine.

The National Environment Management Authority, with the help security agencies, has been going around Nairobi to urge retailers and manufacturers to heed the new ban.

Geoffrey Wahungu is the director general of NEMA. He is promoting the take-bag scheme, basically calling on consumers to bring their own cloth bags or baskets from home.

I hope soon we’ll start seeing people who are carrying out these recycling materials, or alternative bags, which are eco-friendly. All this is creating much more employment than is being lost, he said.

Economic impact

Two plastic bag importers unsuccessfully challenged the ban before the High Court Friday. Kenya produces plastic bags for local use and export in the region. The National Association of Manufacturers has argued that the ban will cost more than 60,000 jobs and hurt more than 170 companies.

NEMA gave six months’ notice of the new ban, but it still appears to have taken many in Kenya by surprise.

Some large retailers have already switched to paper, but small traders are feeling the pinch.

Simon Njenga runs a grocery kiosk. He says he lost customers Monday.

He says the ban pains me a lot because a customer wants to purchase vegetables, but he doesn’t have a bag and I can’t give him one, so they leave my kiosk without buying. The government has to bring back the plastic bags. My livelihood depends on it.

Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and Cameroon have announced similar bans on plastic bags, although the bans aren’t widely enforced. Rwanda is the only African country so far to both declare a ban and push people to follow the law.

Kenyan Environment Minister Judy Wakhungu told Reuters news agency that manufacturers and importers will be the ones initially targeted for enforcement of the ban.

Experts argue that polythene bags are bad for the environment and public health. The thin plastic bags have been blamed for polluting cities and shorelines and killing animals who eat them.

NEMA says the single-use polythene bags never fully biodegrade, remaining in the environment as small or even microscopic particles, essentially forever.

Source: Voice of America

Rights Group: South Sudan Should Probe Death of US Reporter

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN � The killing of an American journalist in South Sudan violates international humanitarian law and should be investigated, according to an international human rights group.

South Sudan’s leaders should “condemn this killing, investigate how it happened and hold those responsible to account,” Jehanne Henry, senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press.

On Saturday morning, 28-year-old freelance journalist, Christopher Allen, was killed when fighting erupted between opposition and government forces along the border between South Sudan and Uganda.

The rebel forces launched a coordinated attack on several towns along the Ugandan border, said the opposition’s deputy spokesman, Col. Lam Paul Gabriel. Allen and two other journalists were embedded with the rebels on a two-week mission and they had come from Kampala, Gabriel told The Associated Press.

Gabriel alleged that Allen “was targeted and killed by the government forces for photographing the fight.” He sent his condolences to Allen’s family and friends.

Army spokesman, Col. Domic Chol Santo, dismissed the opposition account as “rubbish,” saying the government forces acted in self-defense and Allen was killed in the crossfire near the town of Kaya, 2 kilometers (1 mile) from Bazi.

Allen, a freelance journalist, had been based on and off in Kyiv, Ukraine, for several years, said a member of the Ukrainian National Guard and a friend of Allen’s during his time in Ukraine.

“He actually struck me as an intelligent fellow, open-minded,” said the Ukrainian soldier who insisted on anonymity for security reasons.

He said Allen had embedded with a paramilitary group before embedding with his unit for three weeks in March, 2015, and that Allen told him he was interested in joining the military in the future.

South Sudan is one of the harshest climates in the world for journalists, according to press freedom groups. Recently the government has cracked down on the press, blocking several South Sudan news websites.

In the past few months, 15 South Sudanese journalists have been detained, beaten or denied access to information, according to the Union of Journalists in South Sudan and more than 20 foreign journalists have been denied entry or kicked out of the country.

Source: Voice of America


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