Refugee Camp Election
Kakuma Refugee Camp redrawn under the new constitution that will be adopted from January 2012
The blocking system enhances camp leadership, governance and community participation following the new camp addressing system that was implemented in 2011. Kakuma Refugee Camp has been redrawn in accordance with the new rules that are believed to shape the camp life and intercommunity integration for the better through new measures such as regular elections.
Over 150 candidates filed their applications with the office of the Lutheran World Federation – Peace Building and Community Resolution Unit where they eagerly waited their names to be short listed.
Even though the camp constitution was aimed to institutionalize the rules of encampment policy, democracy, human rights and freedom, the first two drafts were firmly rejected by community leaders. The final draft was approved in Fall 2011. Its approval came after several consultation meetings and intense lobbying by the camp governing authority with community leaders. Many camp residents still maintain that the constitution fails to address the warehousing situation. It has, for instance, not explained why refugees are warehoused in camps for decades with no options for settlement or integration in the host communities even after such a long time.
Community leaders and residents have expressed mixed feelings toward the constitution. The majority of the camp residents are illiterate and would need a longer time to understand the contents of the constitution. “I have only heard the new constitution, and that there will be elections. Don’t I have the right to know and give my consent?” asked a leader of a women’s support group at Kakuma 3.
According to Article 2 of the2011 constitution of the Kakuma Refugee Camp, its objectives are to strengthen the self-management of the refugee community and to generally ensure that the welfare, wellbeing and the rights of refugees at the camp are protected. Incentive staff, including school teachers, who have read the constitution, stated that the new constitutional system will create a better change in the community although they acknowledge that there are some considerable gaps. “It is written on paper but how practical will it be? Let’s see what happens,” said a primary school teacher at Kakuma 2.
Refugee leaders differ on several issues relating to the constitution. Many leaders have complained that there wasn’t enough information released in the community on the creation of new rules. Other leaders described it as a way to enhance a system that aims to constrain and control the camp environment. “In our community there is no problem, we have understood the new constitution. It’s fine though the old leaders are not happy; we are ready and waiting for election time,” said a Somali leader at kakuma1 Zone1 Block8.
Minor conflicts have been reported in a few blocks which lack physical demarcations that separate one block from the other. Due to this, UNHCR has not announced the date of the election. No campaigning has been authorized to take place in the community until short listed candidates are notified to do so. Campaigning is expected to last for a limited number of weeks.
Several community leaders have held secret meeting at evenings to plan for the elections especially that of the camp governor, a very competitive position created for the first time ever in Kakuma camp.
Camp Management Committees
The new Kakuma Refugee Camp constitution has created numerous committees within different areas of the camp settlement. There are three levels of management: There will be 94 block management committees, 8 zonal management committees and 2 Camp management committees. Block residents shall appoint members of the electoral committee for the block management committees. There are 94 registered blocks in the camp and each block will have a block management committee.
The Block Management Committee is comprised of sectoral committees on Shelter and Infrastructure, Health and Nutrition, Food and Firewood, the Environment, Peace and Security, Education and Youth, Gender Support, Children, and Persons living with disabilities.
The Zonal Management Committee is comprised of the zonal chairperson, zonal vice chairperson, zonal security, zonal interpreters and zonal sectoral committees. Each zone shall have a zonal management committee which shall be composed of two block leaders of both genders from each block within a particular zone. The members shall elect a chairperson, vice-chairperson of both gender and a secretary. Any block leader elected as chairperson and vice-chairperson shall cease being a block leader and a by-election shall be held at the block level.
The Camp Management Committee is comprised of the Camp Governor, the Camp vice Governor and the Camp Secretary. There will be an overall camp management committee which will include the camp governor and vice camp governor of each zonal management committee and a representative of persons living with disabilities.
The election process will be conducted without discrimination based on nationality, ethnicity, religion or sex. It will be based on the capacity and willingness of the candidates. All elections shall be carried out by secret ballot as indicated in the constitution. According to Article 7 of the 2011 Constitution, after the campaigning period, the process of elections will be witnessed by a taskforce including representatives from the Kenyan Department for Refugee Affairs, the Lutheran World Federation and UNHCR as well as any other appointed agency.
In what will be the old Kakuma refugee camp, the leaders will be elected based on blocks, zones, and areas. “There have been delays in the entire process, but new leadership camp elections are expected by March 2012,” Said an an electoral committee member.
Electoral Committees have been established in each block and shall act as independent bodies in charge of organizing elections for block leaders and of overseeing the appointments of sectoral committees members. Among its core functions; the electoral committee of the block management committee shall oversee campaigns, provide ballot boxes and assist in counting votes. Tallying and the announcement of results will be done at the polling stations. The committee will declare the successful candidates with the election taskforce.
The constitution gives more power to the camp governor by establishing wide committees. Refugees worry that this power might be used by authorities to control and limit the decision-making that affect the well-being of camp residents in daily life.
The Term of Office
Article 8 clarifies that elected officials shall serve two years and can be re-elected for another term. Upon the expiry of two terms they are barred from re-election.
Article 3 states that any person registered with the government of Kenya and UNHCR and who resides at the Kakuma Refugee Camp is bound by the Constitution.
To read more about the camp constitution, we ask KANERE readers to check on the views and opinions of refugee leaders on the Community Talking Point.