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Kenyan refugees settle in Tororo district

By Vision Reporter

Added 14th March 2008 03:00 AM

WHEREAS Kenyan political rivals Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga have reached a power sharing deal, many of the refugees who fled into Uganda feel it is too early to go back. “There will be elections again in five years and the same scenario could be awaiting us. Some of us lost everything, so why sho

By George Bita

WHEREAS Kenyan political rivals Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga have reached a power sharing deal, many of the refugees who fled into Uganda feel it is too early to go back.

“There will be elections again in five years and the same scenario could be awaiting us. Some of us lost everything, so why should we risk going back to repeat the process in 2012?” says Jazan Waihenya, one of the refugees now staying at the UNHCR transit camp in Mulanda, Tororo district.

Waihenya is not alone. Some of the Kenyan refugees have decided to acquire land in eastern Uganda.

One of the refugees, David Karanja, says they helped Ugandans during their bad days of Idi Amin and now Ugandans are paying back well. “A reasonable number of us, the Kikuyus have secured plots in Uganda near the border while some are in Bugiri district. We shall only go home to trade and cross back to our second home,” Karanja adds.

Grace Wanjiru, a Kenyan, now resident in Namayemba sub-county, Bugiri district, says Uganda is now her home. If need be, she will travel back to Kenya to see relatives or to vote if presidential and parliamentary elections come again.
“I had a shop in Eldoret town but it was set ablaze. I will concentrate here in Uganda,” says Wanjiru.

A number of people have made money selling land to Kenyan refugees, pocketing between sh1m and sh5m for varying sizes of land in Tororo, Busia and Bugiri districts. For example in Nabukalu village, Bugiri district, Nicholas Kamau bought a two-acre piece of land from Isabirye Kafeero. Aidah Njeri bought land from Peter Wandera in Busia while Githingi Martin bought a plot from Friday Othieno in Malaba.

However, a cross section of the local community is not comfortable with the Kenyans buying land and settling there.
Grace Kutesa, the LCI chairman of Namyemba central in Bugiri district, says traders are concerned over the business acumen of the Kikuyu ethnic group. “These Kenyans know business very well and may out-compete local traders,” says Kutesa.

Wanjiru adds that some needy Kikuyu girls have been taken on as wives by Ugandan males after they wandered around in search of help. “They wanted help and were ready to work as housegirls to get clothing and food. But it seems one thing led to the next and love took over.”

Margaret Kikomeko, the Bugiri resident district commissioner (RDC), advises residents to receive the Kenyans as brothers and sisters. “We live in one big country that was only divided by colonialists so let us share whatever we have as a family.”

Locals not fluent in Kiswahili have had to employ the services of translators so as to communicate with Kenyans, especially during business transactions.

Kenyans still at Mulanda camp include youthful persons who spend the day consuming local brew (waragi) at the Mulanda trading centre. It is a common sight to see youth staggering or reeking of alcohol in the hot afternoon.

The waragi business is so profitable that some brewers have had to relocate from Tororo town over 22 kilometres away to satisfy demand at the transit camp.

David Karanja, a refugee, says the consumption of alcohol helps them temporality forget the misfortunes that befell them in Kenya and the misery they are in now.

Richard Gulume, the deputy RDC of Tororo district, says the big number of refugees has had an impact on food supply in the area.

The locals are keen on selling their maize to the Kenyan refugees, who cherish the boiled mixture of maize and beans, known as githeri. Being cash-hungry, the locals do not care to reserve enough maize for their own consumption.

He expressed fear that the food scarcity in the area may lead to famine and demand for donations from other parts of the country.

“Alot of the maize has been bought by these people to prepare githeri (meal composed of a mixture of maize and bean seeds) and other foodstuff.”

Gulume says they are monitoring the situation in Kenya and soon, the refugees may be encouraged to return home. But under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines, they cannot be sent home against their will.

Yolande Kurts, the UNHCR emergency response team chief, emphasises that the body has a duty to protect the Kenyan refugees until they voluntarily wish to return home.

Even if all the refugees go home, their impact may be felt for a long time to come.

Gulume says they do not intend to have a permanent refugee camp in Tororo. Some refugees are voluntarily returning home. Those who do not return home will be relocated to Kiryandongo refugee camp in Masindi district in western Uganda.

Kenyan refugees settle in Tororo district

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