The new Cabinet must resettle the displaced

It is a week since the Grand Coalition Cabinet was named under the protracted power sharing accord. It has been excitement galore as the lucky few take up positions in the Cabinet. A sigh of relief continues to sweep across the nation, albeit with complaints the Cabinet is either wasteful or lacks regional balance.

On Thursday 23 new ministers — 20 from Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement — were sworn-in. Amid the camaraderie the chief mediator and former UN Secretary General Dr Kofi Annan advised Kenyans to stay the course, arguing there was still a lot to be done.

The President made the poignant point – the first duty of the coalition Cabinet is to resettle the displaced.

He spoke against the background of rising fear the internally displaced persons, living in squalor, are being used as political pawns. They are, many argue, objects of pity that catch attention when politicians negotiate.

The Government must decide whether it is resettlement in their original farms that will work fast, or relocation pending the resolution of outstanding historical issues that imploded with the election backlash.

It is about four months and the poor children, women, and the old are stuck in muddy grounds with tents for homes. The deplorable conditions, bad weather and food shortages, have made life in the camps a nightmare. Many of the displaced fear for their lives, saying inter-community negotiations and reconciliation may not work well for them.

The Government’s insistence on building police posts in the hotspots, they say, should only supplement the reconciliation programmes, largely executed by non-governmental organisations and the Church.

It must be remembered that there are still Kenyans uprooted from their homes in the Western belt, pitching camp in neighbouring Uganda. Of the 350,000 displaced, many are hibernating in the homes of relatives or have moved over to towns. But their farms remain idle and their homes are debris.

There are burnt and vandalised houses and buildings on the roads in Naivasha, Eldoret, Nakuru, Turbo, Koibatek, Kericho, Kisumu and other areas, which bore the heaviest brunt of the implosion. Schools and churches were not spared either.

Resettlement will take long and the Government needs to draw up a short and long term programme, to address the needs of the displaced. The long term is political engagement to restore inter-ethnic cohesiveness.

In the end truth and justice, without reconciliation and restitution, may be too expensive for the country. The task requires the participation of all, not just the Government. The world can pump in billions of shillings for the programme, as many police stations can be built, but all will be in vain if there is no honest political engagement.

Vested political interests, bigotry and greed should not hold the displaced hostage. The cataclysm is over. Let us now turn the national attention to the displaced. It starts with the new Cabinet. The nation is watching.

As Prof Chinua Achebe, the African hero, says, "Democracy is not something you put away for ten years, and then in the 11th year you wake up and start practicing again. We have to begin to learn to rule ourselves again."

We are not a savage nation and we must prove this by reaching out to the displaced.

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