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Topics / Sustainable Peace in Africa

Peacebuilders: Refugees and Migration

The socioeconomic integration of displaced populations

Displacement has become a common feature of life in East Africa over the past decade, leading to a wide range of creative solutions, according to Caroline Njuki, senior program coordinator at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s regional secretariat on forced displacement and mixed migration. Hosts Aaron Stanley and Scott Malcomson speak with Caroline Njuki about the the dynamics surrounding refugees and migration in this seventh episode of the Diffusion:Peacebuilders podcast series.

MALCOMSON: Welcome to Diffusion, a podcast of Carnegie Corporation of New York. I’m Scott Malcomson.

STANLEY: and I’m Aaron Stanley. In episode 7, we are discussing the dynamics surrounding refugees and migration in the Horn and East Africa.

MALCOMSON: For this discussion, we met in Nairobi with Caroline Njuki, Senior Program Coordinator at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s regional secretariat on Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration. We jump right in, with Caroline discussing how she got involved with this work.

NJUKI:  I had read a study written by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center that is created by the Norwegian Refugee Council.  And it was called, "I'm a Refugee in My Own Country."  So I came back home with that, armed with this study to sort of have a conversation with my government, my country, on what we were doing about refugees.  And the first thing was denial.  No, we don't have — who are these people?  IDPs.  We don't even know that in this country.

MALCOMSON: What year was this?

NJUKI: That was pre-2007, so pre-violence.  And before that, we didn't talk about internal displacement in Kenya, although there had been many incidences of ethnic clashes tied to electioneering periods.  So people who are displaced in '92, in '97 — not in 2002, because it was euphoric, and we had a very great election in Kenya.  But there had been all these people.  And the estimate was 350,000.  And that sort of created this new resolve in me to sort of get to the core of displacement and how can we deal with it when it happens, but also how can we try and stop it from happening in the first place.  So I wrote that, and violence happened in 2007, 2008.  I was writing that earlier in the year.  We went to the polls in December.  Violence broke out, and now we had IDPs.  And it was the first time we were actually having the term Internally Displaced People in public discourse.


MALCOMSON:  IGAD began life — please correct me if I'm wrong — in 1986 as the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development…

NJUKI:  Exactly.

MALCOMSON:  …in reaction to years of damage from drought in the region.  The original members would have been Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, and Sudan.

NJUKI:  Mm-hmm.

MALCOMSON:  That then changed in 1996 after a decade into simply the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.  Eritrea, when it became independent from Ethiopia, joined IGAD in 1993.  And then eventually, South Sudan, when it gained independence from Sudan, became a full member in 2011.

NJUKI:  Yes.

MALCOMSON:  It's not obvious, at least looking from the outside, why something called the Intergovernmental Authority on Development would evolve into such an important player in peace and security issues in, as you say, the sort of harder sense, as well as in the development sense.  But it is likewise not, in the African context, not entirely unusual.  For example, ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, likewise plays a peace and security role that isn't sort of obviously economic, if you will, or obviously development.  Could you talk about how IGAD — how and why it became a player in sort of not strictly development questions?

NJUKI:  We'll have to go back to the formation of IGADD, IGADD with a double D, Drought and Desertification.  And that was after the really devastating drought that I think it's the first one in the Horn of Africa that everyone in the world knew about.  I mean those images will be ingrained in people's minds forever.

STANLEY:  This is the drought that invoked Bob Geldof--


NJUKI:  Exactly, very powerful images from Mohamed [Amin], a great photographer.  And so at that point, it was felt that an organization was needed to help these countries deal with matters of drought and desertification — quite clever, because you cannot deal with drought alone. I mean, what causes drought is often something — factors that are not just limited to one country most of the time.  And also, the belt, the ecological belt the Horn of Africa shares — it’s quite similar in terms of the weather patterns.  And the drought of '82 to '84, I would say, affected Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia to a very great extent.  And so the leadership of these countries felt, okay, we need to come together and find out what we can do jointly to mitigate against drought, but also just going ahead — you know, collaborate more and see how we can work together with each other. 

So at that point, IGADD with double D was not: there was no economic thinking; there was no regional integration as such.  And so, established '86, as you rightly mentioned, and focused entirely on matters drought: so natural resource management, food security, et cetera.  And 1992, '93…'91 to '93, these are the troubled years for Somalia, already a member of IGAD. And we were having refugee…people displaced leaving Somalia and basically just killed in that country.

STANLEY:  And just for context here, '91 to '93 is when there was the UN mission, which was led by the Americans. Restore Hope—

NJUKI:  [Interposing] Exactly.

STANLEY:  —which had the battle of Mogadishu, also known as Black Hawk Down.

NJUKI:  Absolutely.

STANLEY:  And that's kind of that same time period.

NJUKI:  Absolutely.  And with this Operation Restore Hope, it didn't go very well.  And so there was—

STANLEY:  [Interposing] To say the least.

NJUKI: Yes.  There was general discomfort on sending troops from elsewhere or any intervention into Somalia.        

MALCOMSON:  Including discomfort in the United States--

NJUKI:  [Interposing] Absolutely.  And there was also 1994, the genocide happened in Rwanda.  So there were all these issues, peace and security, though, making many countries nervous about intervention.

MALCOMSON:  Well, the genocide was partly due to nonintervention in some ways.  I mean, you could argue that there was a hesitation to intervene on the part of actors, particularly the United States, having found that the intervention did not go at all well in the Somali case.

NJUKI:  Exactly.  And so since Somalia was already part of an entity established to deal with matters not peace and security, through a UN Security Council decision: that is what's transitioned the mandate of IGAD.  It was felt that a regional entity would have more credibility, would be viewed by the Somalis as less foreign, so to say, if they engaged in the search for peace and stability in that country.  And that is what led to the transitioning of IGAD from “drought and desertification” to “development” with a very strong peace-and-security mandate.  So when it transitioned, again, it was not regional integration.  It was not trade.  It was more now strong focus on peace and security.  And then at the meeting in 1996, countries decided but yes, peace and security, but then can we also collaborate on matters of trade, for instance.  So economic cooperation and social development also became part of the new mandate of IGAD.  So that's the transition.  And that is why most people, when they hear about IGAD, there are many who forget our drought and desertification mandate.


NJUKI: IGAD engaged greatly with Somalia, engaged a lot more with Sudan, the search for peace in Sudan, and that's what we've become really known for.  We cannot talk development if we do not have stable nations.  We cannot trade if we do not have stable nations.  But also that when we trade together, there is less likelihood for interstate conflict as well.  And we've not had that since, the last one was really — I would say the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict.  Of course, there have been, I would say, smaller flareups on both the areas when it comes to Ethiopia and Eritrea.  But we've not had fully blown war between states.  And that could be attributed to this collaboration, because the leadership of these countries meet together in the summit.  They discuss different issues.  And even smaller or latent conflicts that could flare up and become big conflicts are solved when — because we have such an excellent conflict early warning mechanism that has evolved over the years.  And that has helped to sort of deal with those crises, whether they are at the border areas or that had the potential to spill over across country, across borders at a very early stage.

STANLEY:  What are some of those examples?  It'd be great to hear some positive examples, because we've been focusing heavily on some of the active conflicts.

NJUKI: When our conflict early warning system was established, it was to deal with matters… cattle rustling, which in the Horn of Africa is quite prevalent.  Something that starts as — it's been called a cultural issue, that it's almost allowed, or it can be excused when one community raids another, steals their animals.  I don't think they use that term when they actually — they say we are raiding — take their animals away and bring them back to their communities.  It's done to pay a dowry and other issues.  But then it transitioned where we had--especially let me speak about the Karamoja in Uganda and the Pokot in Kenya.  It's morphed into something--

STANLEY:  [Interposing] Sorry, just for some clarification, the Pokot and Karamoja are on the border area between Uganda and Kenya, and it's the northwest section of Kenya.

NJUKI:  Absolutely.  And we also have the Toposa people in South Sudan now who share — they're almost the same linguistic group, but called different names across the different borders.  And cattle rustling, or raiding, as the communities call it, became such a big issue.  Why?  Because they were losing their livestock more, so they needed to replenish more.  And now, communities started arming themselves, and they were not arming themselves with spears anymore.  They started getting guns — I mean, AK-47s.  And the poster that we actually have for our conflict early warning is of a mother with a child on her back and a huge gun, I think it's an AK-47, on her hand.  That's the poster we have for our conflict early warning.  And of course, the guns were becoming more available because of conflict within the region.  And what do we call it?  Yes, arms could easily pass from one border to the other.  And the countries had to do something about this, because now, we have two communities with guns, which makes it real war.  It's not just a cultural pastime anymore.  And that made border areas so insecure in our subregion, from the Uganda-Kenya border to the South Sudan — even before South Sudan became an independent country, but also on the Kenya-Ethiopia border. And that is one of the conflicts that we've had to really focus on, and that is why we developed our conflict early warning, to see what are some of those things that countries watch out for that could speak to a raid.  And then how do you preempt that raid, because it was going beyond the raiding to full-blown war and lots of atrocities. 

So those are the kind of things, if not checked upon, had the possibility of affecting an entire district, and not just the two villages across borders where the raiding will take place and where the raiders came from.  So that's an example that I would give.  And just recently, we have now expanded our conflict early warning to not just pastoral border area conflicts to include indicators in governance, for instance, in economies.  So if there is an inflation in a country, then we'll send out a warning that if we continue on this course, then there is likely to be a conflict.  People will be upset, and there's likely to be protests, et cetera. 

Elections: we've started engaging ourselves in elections, and really starting way before polls take place to look out for those indicators that could tell us that, if this is not addressed, then polls or elections could be violent.  And that has helped greatly.  It's helped in Kenya, helped in Uganda.  It's been very, very useful.  The response is not necessarily so great as of now.  But even having that information and having national actors aware of it certainly goes a long way in turning some latent conflict into something that is discussed and sorted out.


NJUKI: We have over 1.3 million refugees in Uganda right now from South Sudan.  So many in Kenya, so many in Uganda, and every day, people are fleeing.  The estimate is that by the end of the year, we'll have 2 million in Uganda.  I mean, no country can be able to — and not a very developed country like Uganda — cannot hold such numbers of people.  So I would think it's also in a country like Uganda's interest that peace is restored so that people can also be able to go back.  I always wondered why Uganda has been more generous to refugees — generous in the sense that when they arrive in Uganda, they are given a piece of land.  Well, that's not happening anymore, 1.3 million.  I mean,the priority now is to save lives and be able to provide lifesaving measures to those that are arriving.  And I've been told: the Ugandans know displacement.  They were displaced for so long.  And they know what helps.  I wasn't taught by a Ugandan teacher, but there are so many Kenyans who tell you that they were taught by Ugandan teachers who had fled during the very shaky years in Uganda.

STANLEY:  And this was in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s when there were a lot of changes between Idi Amin, Milton Obotoe…

NJUKI: Exactly.  Exactly.  But I've also said we do not have to all be displaced to know how it is that we should best treat those who are displaced.  But encampment as a model of refugee protection has had its benefits.  And the reason why countries in the Horn also adopted it to a wide extent is because those displaced often were very near the areas where they were fleeing from. And so you needed to keep them in an area where you could watch, protect — physically protect them from attacks, because people could, insurgents could just cross over and pursue deserters or whatever.  And also in terms of provision of aid, because for the longest time, those displaced have been provided with aid by the international community. 

So it was essentially — initially, it was never about security.  It was never about: that will affect our security.  That is something that is quite new with terrorism, et cetera.  But it's also outlived its purpose.  Why?  Because, in the Horn, displacement often becomes very protracted.  As you mentioned 20 years, Somalia is since 1991.  That's almost two generations.  And we have had to think as a subregion: How then do we protect refugees?  How do we give dignity to those who are displaced? Because living in a camp like Dadaab, which for the longest was the biggest camp in Africa, and probably around the world —

STANLEY:  Dadaab is a Somali refugee camp in northern Kenya.

NJUKI:  —Exactly.  It was originally meant to hold less than 100,000 people.  And at one point, it had 500,000 refugees of Somali origin.  And it became, I think at one point it became the second biggest city in Kenya.  And it's just unending tents, a lot of environmental destruction, because people come in, they need water, they need firewood.  And they just clear the bushes that they come across.  They keep little animals, because they also need a livelihood to continue sustaining themselves.  And we've seen such destruction.  And so it is now — and I'll maybe speak about that a little later — that the region has thought, how do we step away from this care and maintenance for refugee populations to a much more dignified protection approach that makes people self-reliant.  And because: We hoped they would go back within one year; they are still with us so many more years later.  South Sudanese refugees went back.  And then they've been displaced, and they are back in the camp.  So how is it yes, we can have emergency lifesaving measures as they arrive, because they arrive in big numbers. 

But already think — and you can tell when displacement is likely to be protracted — already inject measures that will ensure that schooling continues for children.  They are not out of school for too long, as we are hoping that they would go back, because they are likely not to go back in three, four, five months, not in a year, as we've seen with South Sudan, but also — skills training, access to the labor market, not just for themselves, but also so that they can contribute to these micro-economies that they are in, and because we've seen there is a huge, huge potential to contribute to development by refugees in our subregion.


NJUKI: The challenge has been that when we talk about integration, we think of the ultimate, which is citizenship and political rights.  That takes long, not just in Africa, but in most countries of the world.  You do not immediately — you're not a refugee, and then next thing, you're a citizen.  That's just not how it works.  And that has tended to sort of--you know?  I want to use the term scare countries, when you expected to integrate half a million of a population that's not your own.  Also, considering some of the political implications — like, Kenya has its own Somali population.  So then how does that happen? 

But now, increasingly, we are talking about local socioeconomic integration, because for most of these refugees, they don’t want to become citizens.  And they tell you, I want to go back to Somalia when peace returns.  But until then, I want to be able, in a dignified way, to feed my children.  I want to be able to use skills — the skills that I have acquired, what I acquired at home before I came here, or that I have acquired here through support of different institutions — to make a living, and, they say, to contribute to the community that hosts me.  So it's just a matter of dignity.  There is no dignity in people waiting for food every Wednesday.  I mean, it's devastating to them as people.

MALCOMSON:  Part of your job is to deal with the IGAD diaspora.

NJUKI:  Yes.

MALCOMSON:  How did your job first sort of integrate that whole stream from northern Minnesota to Dadaab to Mogadishu, just for example?  And what does that work entail, and what do you think the future of it is?

NJUKI:  I'll start in Kenya.  The Kenyan diaspora, although not necessarily displaced people in the sense of refugee tents, but the Kenyan diaspora remits more than tourism, which is one of Kenya's key FX earners brings to the country, after horticulture, I think.  And right there, the sheer volume of remittances — and those are official remittances.  There's so much more money that is sent back home that is not captured.  So we can--it's way bigger. 

In Somalia, the Somali diaspora remits more than official development assistance in Somalia.  And it's massive.  There is so much money provided by partners, countries, organizations, to rebuild, reconstruct Somalia.  And we have seen some of the most vibrant businesses in finance, in telecoms, in Somalia are owned by the diaspora.           And as IGAD, we felt it was very important to reach out to the diaspora and explore ways in which they could engage more actively with countries that they were coming from. Now, there is nothing like an IGAD diaspora.  Diasporas are tied to their home countries.  So we have an Ethiopian diaspora.  We have a Ugandan diaspora.  But the opportunities and challenges that being diasporan, if I can, member of the diaspora—

MALCOMSON:  [Interposing] I'm not sure what the word is either.  I was thinking: diasporic?

NJUKI:  A member of the diaspora would be the same for Ugandan or Ethiopian.  How do I mean by this?  There's a huge discussion around what rights should members of the diaspora enjoy.  Is it because they contribute a lot, and they say, we also want political rights?  We want to be able to contest in elections and be voted in, and we have lived elsewhere, so we have seen how democracy could work better, and we want to bring that back home.  We are bringing back skills and innovation, et cetera.  And the home countries also — some of them have not had very great experiences with diaspora.  And they're accused of championing opposition.  And so there is a bit of hesitation.

And so at the regional level, our role has been to create a platform where countries can discuss some of these challenges and opportunities and see how is it that we can engage more meaningfully with our diaspora beyond just mere contributions.  And a good example, for instance, is we have an Ethiopian diaspora population organization for North America.  It's called ENAHPA, Ethiopian North American Health Providers Association.  They are engaged so much on health issues--they give sometimes six months, in a year come back, work in a hospital, mentor doctors, bring back equipment, train people on how to use them — equipment that was not present in some of these countries. These are professionals that didn't even train in Ethiopia.  They trained abroad.  They are well established in their medical professions.  And they decided: We can contribute to improving health, health provision, in our countries.

MALCOMSON:  So interesting.

NJUKI:  And they were looking for a partner, and we reached out to them.  And now, we are seeking for more partners.  We are establishing the first center of excellence for cancer for the region.  And the initial thinking was by this diaspora population.  And so we are hoping that we can have many more similar initiatives in different fields, whether it's in agriculture or finance, a bit more support.  We've also had diaspora programs that, especially with the IOM —

MALCOMSON: IOM stands for the International Organization on Migration, an inter-governmental body dedicated to the orderly and humane management of migration.

NJUKI: — that help those in the diaspora come back for placement, six months [in] ministries of water or health or — especially finance, treasury, planning, inject their skills, their knowledge, and then go back.  And that is how you can help them.  I mean, you help these countries by bringing in this different kind of thinking.  So that is the work that we are doing with the diaspora. 

What we have seen is that now almost all countries in our subregion have established diaspora desks.  And they are also developing diaspora policies for the very first time.  Those are policies that provide a framework, at least legal, on how do you engage the diaspora. What is it that you provide to the diaspora to help them engage better with the countries, including, for instance, dual citizenship.

STANLEY:  And that was something that came up in the Kenyan constitutional rewriting after 2008, right?

NJUKI:  Exactly, yeah.  Constitution 2010, for the first time, the diaspora also lobbied and said we contribute.  We have links with our families back home, with our countries, and we feel we contribute better when we are most tied to that country through citizenship.  We don't want to lose — they feel like it's losing a heritage.  And I don't know what that means — I would never want to lose my heritage myself.  So I understand why, even though they are quite prosperous and successful in other countries, they would still want to be able to access their countries more and participate as citizens.

STANLEY:  I wonder if — it seems like each country will go about it quite differently, because Somalia, for example, just the diaspora has been so influential, to the point where the current president is diaspora.

NJUKI:  Yes.

STANLEY:  Whereas in Kenya, it's not as obvious the level of diaspora interaction.  You just spoke about the economic influence, which is just incredible.  And I think people also forget how important that private investment is in the economies here.

NJUKI:  Yeah.

STANLEY:  I mean, even in this series of conversations that we've had, we've been speaking about governments and international donors.  But that private investment is so critical to maintaining relationships, but also to the economy.

NJUKI:  Absolutely.  And now, we've seen--because the diaspora — and I've attended many diaspora conferences with home governments, where they say we have foreign investors as well.  So can we get the same kind of leverage, that same kind of exceptions on taxes that foreign companies get when they invest back home. And we've seen a country like Kenya ceding a lot of ground when it comes to how much do you tax diaspora that wants to invest, and the president, President Kenyatta, has engaged really, really intentionally with the diaspora in encouraging them to invest more and giving them incentives that make them invest back at home.  And the same for Ethiopia.  There has been the — I think now they will be holding their third diaspora conference.  And it's like a national event, where they come and discuss some of the challenges that they are also experiencing in trying to reengage, not just in terms of engagement, not in terms of just economic engagement, but what are some of their challenges also socially with reconnecting with their families, et cetera. 

That is something that we didn't have before.  There was more suspicion before.  We see more cooperation and partnership and engagement, which is really welcome.     What do the remittances go to in a classic family in the Horn of Africa that has a member of the diaspora?  It goes to financing education, so school fees for those countries where education is not free.  And even if it's free, school uniform is not free. The food that the children will carry to school is not free.  But it goes to financing health as well, vaccinations, no more visits to the doctors.  That, in turn, contributes to health, attainment of health in line now with the sustainable development goals.  But it also goes into buying assets, family assets.  And that could include buying a goat.  I mean, a goat will not be considered an asset in many parts of the world.  But the goat will produce milk that contributes to the income of the family.  And in the worst-case scenario, the goat could be sold to finance something even bigger.  So it's small, but it's so significant that so many families that rely on the diaspora to meet everyday needs.

MALCOMSON: In next week's episode, we will be discussing the role of the modern state in Africa. Peacebuilders was produced by Matt Fidler for Carnegie Corporation of New York.        

Diffusion is the podcast of Carnegie Corporation of New York, promoting the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding around issues of peace, education and democracy.