These Refugees Aren’t Poor Enough

The refugees don’t look the way refugees are supposed to look. In Londiani, in Nakuru, in Kericho they have been camped around police stations or churches with their belongings – bed frames, fridges and sacks of clothes – often piled next to their matatus or gleaming white Toyota Corollas. These are not poor people. In many cases they are Kikuyus, driven out of town by envy that has manifested itself in political and tribal violence. The refugees have cash and assets.

Last week as I left Nakuru I saw a father tying his electric oven to the back of his car before hitting the road to Nairobi. Another car had a fridge sticking out of its boot.

But this picture of the wealthy refugee (IDP if you must) doesn’t always fit with the image preferred by aid workers and journalists. For charities, it is always better to portray them as helpless and penniless the better to raise cash. And for journalists, the copy always flows more easily with a spoonful of cliches (of which I am equally guilty).

One of my colleagues saw their copy “edited” to include an extra paragraph describing how a child’s bare feet were caked with mud. Only problem was that the pic that ran with the story clearly showed the girl wearing a brand new pair of shoes.

Of course not all the displaced families are rich. Not all are Kikuyus. Not all Kikuyus are wealthy businesspeople – despite the stereotype. And many of these people have lost everything. The point is that the picture is more complex than it appears and underlines what a disgrace it is that this should be happening in Kenya. This is not Darfur or Somalia. These people have fridges.

3 thoughts on “These Refugees Aren’t Poor Enough

  1. That was an important observation. I found it heart wrenching listening to an interview where an IDP was saying that he is now waiting in lines, for food from well wishes, yet his farm had all manner of cultivated food, ready for harvest.

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