By Muthoni Wanyeki
The Madaraka Day presidential speech reiterated the executive’s determination to end Kenya’s hosting of asylum-seekers and refugees.
That determination affects asylum-seekers and refugees from many communities. While Somalis constitute by far the largest asylum-seeking and refugee community here, we are also host to many others: Burundians, Congolese and South Sudanese, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Rwandans and Ugandans.
The executive’s decision ignores the long history that some of these communities have here. Take, for example, the Ethiopian community here. There have been at least three waves of movement into Kenya from Ethiopia.
First, with the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie’s monarchy in 1974 and the takeover by the Derg. As the Derg instituted the nationalisation of both industry and land, many (primarily Amhara) professionals and erstwhile private-sector types moved to Kenya and re-established themselves here.
Second, with the fall of the Derg, the civil war, the fleeing into exile of Mengistu Haile Mariam (through Kenya) and the ascendency to power of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front in 1991.
Third, following the formal accession to power of the EPRDF under the late Meles Zenawi at the end of the transitional period in 1995.
The long story shortened is that revolutions inevitably go wrong. Presenting us with the paradox that is Ethiopia today. This past week marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Derg.
Independent media, civil society and the political opposition are under attack. Freedom of expression is limited; the Committee for the Protection of Journalists last year ranked Ethiopia among the 10 most censored countries in the world.
Freedom of assembly is exercised at high risk — witness the unbelievable response to the ongoing protests in Oromia against the now ostensibly cancelled Addis Ababa “master plan,” which people in the region feared would dispossess yet more small-scale farmers.
Ethiopia is a human-rights disaster. Which means that Kenya is host to over 30,000 asylum-seekers and refugees from Ethiopia.
Not only from Oromia, but also from Gambella and Ogaden. Who this past week, at a public roundtable at the National Museums of Kenya, shared their collective frustrations with the situation at home. Who shared too their fears given the current political climate for asylum-seekers and refugees here.
They noted the ease with which Ethiopian security services operate here — resulting in the abductions and forced returns of many meant to have found refugee here. They decried the long periods that their status determination processes take.
The point that many made in relation to the executive’s new position was that they had nowhere to be repatriated to. Forced evictions from land to make way for Ethiopia’s much vaunted “development,” are not just a problem in Oromia. One third of Gambella’s land, for example, has been taken over for foreign investment.
It is 25 years since the fall of the Derg. The paradox that is Ethiopia needs to find resolution. In the interim, Ethiopian asylum-seekers and refugees still need Kenya’s protection.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.