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Podcast 7: Refugees and Migration in East Africa

Craig Zelizer

June 14, 2018

Episode 7

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.

Until the election violence of 2007, Njuki says, her native country of Kenya had been "in denial" about the realities of internally displaced persons. But with displacement in Kenya itself, along with large-scale population movements out of Somalia and South Sudan, East Africa and the Horn have been made all too aware that refugee flows are, if not quite the rule, no longer the exception.

Host countries, Njuki says, have learned to be flexible in how they handle refugees. With populations that are eager to return home, it is sometimes best to have them near borders. At the same time, long-term residence means that both refugees and the host countries benefit from integration of refugees into host economies and societies.

"Increasingly, we are talking about local socioeconomic integration," Njuki says, "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." With the right programs in place, she says, "We've seen there is a huge, huge potential to contribute to development by refugees in our subregion."


Security has been an important aspect of the work of Njuki's agency, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). IGAD was born in the 1980s as a response to drought, desertification, and famine, then grew into its present form as a vehicle for handling the Somali crises of the early and mid-1990s. "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," Njuki notes. "We cannot talk development if we do not have stable nations. We cannot trade if we do not have stable nations. But when we trade together, there is less likelihood for interstate conflict as well. And we've not had that since the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict. We've not had fully blown war between states. And that could be attributed to this collaboration."

Njuki says IGAD's early-warning system has helped prevent or reduce conflict in the region, such as violence associated with cattle rustling in the counties where Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda meet. Encompassing indicators from the economy and political life, IGAD's early-warning system has begun to anticipate conflicts related to, for example, elections or economic downturns. "That has helped," she says, "to sort of deal with those crises, whether they are at the border areas or that had the potential to spill over across borders at a very early stage."

Ultimately, Njuki sees the accommodation of large displaced populations as a political, social, and economic work in progress. The evolution of diasporas — also part of her IGAD brief — is a case in point. Kenyans in the diaspora remit as much foreign currency as is earned from tourism. Somalia receives as much from its diaspora as it does from total official development assistance. Diasporas and refugee populations alike are reshaping, and enlarging, the realities of citizenship. "Almost all countries in our subregion have established diaspora desks," Njuki says. "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?"

Peacebuilders features nine episodes from East Africa. The two remaining episodes — on the African state and "African solutions to African problems" — will be broadcast weekly on Tuesday mornings. The interviewers are Aaron Stanley, a program assistant with Carnegie Corporation's International Peace and Security program, and Scott Malcomson, an author, journalist, and former government official and NGO executive. Malcomson was a Carnegie Corporation media fellow (2015–18) and is currently a fellow in international security at the New America Foundation and director of special projects at Strategic Insight Group.

This originally appeared on AllAfrica.com

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