Management Consultant Mike Eldon

Turkana County is a study in how to treat refugees

A few years ago I moderated a series of workshops for UNHCR to help them and their implementation partners strategise about the future of the Dadaab refugee camp. Their then Deputy Resident Representative Kilian Kleinschmidt (who is now active in Syria) dreamed of seeing the hand-to-mouth refugee camp dependent on mere humanitarian assistance transform into “the City of Dadaabia”, where mere recipients of humanitarian assistance would become self-reliant citizens who participated actively in their community and contributed to its wellbeing.

Sadly, it was not to be. For security and other reasons there was no appetite from the Kenyan government for contemplating a more ongoing and sustainable scenario, given the expectation (however unrealistic) that in the foreseeable future the refugees in the camp would return to their countries of origin.

Much has changed since then, both globally and in our immediate region. The UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) recognised that there was no need for either the host community to feel they were less well treated than the refugees, or for the refugees to be so restricted in their movements or activities. The new school of thought was to support the refugees in ways that were fully integrated into the overall local development plans.

This new sense of realism accepted that the conditions in the countries from which the refugees had migrated may well continue to be such that their return would be far from imminent. Beyond this, that the consequence of the ongoing existence of a refugee camp should be beneficial to the host community.

Turning back to Kenya, let me share what I have been learning about the Kakuma camp in Turkana, home to 186,000 refugees from various countries in the region. Here, the Turkana county government has been working closely with the national government, development partners such as UNHCR, the World Bank and its IFC, GIZ and others to bring about precisely such an enlightened win-win situation. Under the visionary leadership of Governor Josphat Nanok, great strides have been made to achieve the global vision as foreseen by the UN.

Turkana’s current County Integrated Development Plan spells out how the host and refugee communities will develop together, with an appropriate allocation of resources and in collaboration with development partners, NGOs, the private sector (not least Tullow) and other stakeholders.

I recently accompanied an IFC-led mission that also comprised representation from UNHCR and GIZ to Lodwar to hear from a number of senior county officials about how they are progressing, as a result of which I was keen to share my reactions to the extraordinarily impressive culture I found. In each of our meetings we met with men and women who were open and energetic, collaborative and purposeful, eloquent and cheerful. How refreshing that was.

Clearly the Governor has gathered around him a cohesive team that under his overall leadership plans well and then fully expects to execute on those plans – delivering the desired development impact. It’s like there’s a permanent Rapid Results Initiative mindset – without the chaos or bureaucracy one finds in so many parts of government. Kudos to them.

We visited the citizen-enabling Huduma Centre and Biashara Centre in Lodwar, as the visiting team explored how to support the establishment of a one-stop shop for such services in the Kakuma refugee camp. Everywhere we went, the people involved were knowledgeable and infused with an impressive seriousness of purpose.

No wonder I had heard that Turkana has been rated the best county in how it conducts monitoring and evaluation: it’s thanks to the healthy performance culture that has been nurtured. And no wonder too that when I asked the Governor to what he attributed this perception his reply was as modest as it was aspirational: “We’re on a journey,” he told me, “and we still have a way to go.”

I for one will be following their journey closely. And from what I saw I predict they will go from strength to strength, neither becoming complacent nor being overly dismayed by the challenges that will no doubt continue to confront them. Not least, they should become a global role model for constructive coexistence between a host and a refugee community.