Despite Persistent Violence Due to Ethnic Extremism, Communities in Kakuma Refugee Camp Remain Resilient

 Turkana County is the second largest of 47 counties in Kenya, covering an area of 1.5976km2 and accounting for 13.5% of the total land area in the republic. Tukana west, one of the sub county’s , is located 408 miles north west from the capital ,Nairobi.

Most households in the county rely on livestock farming, the energy sector, which is driven by the Turkwel Hydro power plant, and the oil and gas sector as livelihood means. Turkana West is also a home of diversified communities.

Today, Kakuma Camp & Kalobeyei Settlement in Turkana West accommodate almost 200,000 people of 21 diverse nationalities who have been living peacefully with host populations. Such a diverse community can ultimately enrich culture, languages and the economy.

Kakuma is home to refugees from diverse origins such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. The biggest groups are the South Sudanese, Somalis and Congolese. Remarkably, these communities have been able to develop a sense of resilience against violent ethnic extremism.

Kakuma Refugee Camp has four sub-camps, which are numbered in the order they were opened. These sub-camps are like small towns, comprising of a mix of mud and iron sheet homes and commercial centers. 

The nationalities in Kakuma differ greatly among four the sub-camps. Kakuma one, two and three have diverse populations, while Kakuma four, hosting recent refugee arrivals, is primarily home to the South Sudanese. A recent study by International Finance Corporation shows that Kakuma’s economy is highly driven by refugees and estimates the total annual consumption to be 1.7 billion KSH due to the diversity of the community.

Over the years, Kakuma has built a diverse community. The presence of such a heterogeneous community in Kakuma has created both opportunities and challenges.

Urbanization is one of the advantages of having diversified communities in Kakuma and this is due to the influx of diverse refugee settlement in Turkana west.

The recently launched Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Development Project (KISEDP), which is expected to benefit both host and refugee communities, is likewise dependent on the diverse communities in the county.

KISEDP is a government-led, area-based, community centered, and a market-based initiative and it will directly and indirectly benefit the Turkana West population, which is home to 200,000 refugees and 320,000 longstanding host residents.

It was launched in 2015 after the UNHCR and the Government of Kenya agreed to pilot a new approach to refugee protection that promotes self-reliance of both refugees and host communities by increasing livelihood opportunities and inclusive service delivery.

The new approach was built upon “choice theory”, which favors creating an enabling environment that allows refugees and host communities to maximize their potential. Recently, Lodwar Town has been granted an upgraded municipality status and Kakuma-Kalobeyei is planned to be constituted as a Municipality, due to urbanization driven by an increase in diverse communities and markets.

KISEDP was officially launched in December 2018 with a 15-years vision. The project is expected to benefit half a million people, out of which 40% are refugees communities from East African countries.

According to the KISEDP document, the presence of diverse communities in Kakuma and the new settlement have an overall beneficial and permanent impact on Turkana’s economy, boosting the county’s Gross Regional Product (GRP) by over 3%, increasing total employment by about 3 percent, promoting economic integration, and increasing per capita host incomes by 6%. 

Having a diverse multinational community also poses serious challenges. The main challenge has been recurrent ethnic-based violent extremism. While Kakuma can be said to be a melting pot of different nationalities and ethnicities, such diversity can also be a recipe for conflict if ethnic extremism is left unchecked.

Violence has been in Kakuma since its inception, and the reasons for such conflicts are multi-layered and complex. These conflicts could arise because of poverty, resources, ethnicity, and gender-based violence. 

Violence due to ethnic extremism between different ethnic groups has flourished in recent years. Violent conflicts involving one or more clans or ethnic groups have become widespread and increasingly severe in the refugee camp.  The recent conflict between two South Sudan tribes is a good example.

Two individuals were persistently quarrelling due to memory cards from two different ethnic groups will turn to inter -communal violence and might take lives, disrupt peace and affect communities’ peaceful coexistence. 

Picture: Communities at Block 1 Zone 8 resolving disputes before it reaches to conflict 

Despite having challenging or threatening circumstances, communities in Kakuma have found ways to live together in peace for almost three decades and become more resilient.

My community, Kakuma 1, is a small city with a medley of communities and sub-communities, which include different economic activities like shops, where you can buy almost everything you can imagine wholesalers, or Ethiopian restaurants, which are popular among camp residents, NGO staff, and visitors.

Over time, communities in Kakuma  have been building different social bonds, bridges, and links between and among communities, individuals, and institutions to combat ethnic-based violent extremism. 

Remarkably, different peace building initiatives have increased resilience in Kakuma camp. One may be easily surprised by the resilience of communities, the established businesses, and the extensive social relations of refugees.

Refugees of different backgrounds socialize together, visit each other, attend weddings and funerals of different communities, and perform religious activities.

They compete in soccer and boxing and they worship in the same churches. These activities have built trust and communication between two or more communities or sub-groups.Some refugee men have also married Turkanas. All these social connections have been recognized to reduce violence, helped the communities to become more resilient, and strengthened social cohesion.

Published by INTER-FREE Translations and Interpretations

Refugee Freelancers, Photographers, Storytellers & Video Producers, Interpreters, Translators, Data collectors, Interviewers from Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya.

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