Saturday, October 29, 2005

It's always hard to know where to start when I try to write about Kalma camp - everything in Kalma always seems to be just a little too complicated to explain in a quick blog post.

The bottom line is, living in Kalma camp is not easy: it's overcrowded, it's tense, and it's not particularly safe (it's got the population of a mid-sized city, but no police or any other effective authority to uphold order - riots, assaults, murders and attempted lynchings are not uncommon in Kalma).

The local government authorities hate Kalma camp (they're not so keen on a huge crowd of angry armed men so close to a state capital and major airport) - as far as they're concerned, everyone would be much better off if the people of Kalma camp would just go back home. In this spirit, they have done a pretty impressive job in making people's lives even more miserable than they already are through the economic blockade of the camp, attempted relocations and more recently a stubborn refusal to cary out headcounts that would allow those who are still not registered to finally receive ration cards. (A successful headcount did take place this month, though it was preceeded by yet another failed attempt - for which the police conveniently forgot to show up.)

One of the more worrying decisions in recent weeks has been the Nyala governor's refusal to renew the contract of the Kalma camp manager, a very capable and dedicated NGO. Since the end of August, Kalma has not had a camp manager (the NGO has not even been allowed to enter the camp) - which means the displaced people have no central authority that they can approach with their concerns or grievances.

Instead, people continue to rely on their tribal leaders, the sheiks, to solve their problems. The problem with this is that not all of the sheiks really have their community's interests at heart - while some are genuinely representative and trusted by their people, many of the newly crowned kings of Kalma camps are corrupt, power hungry and overly politicised. Who - as we saw this week - won't stop short of detaining aid workers to make a point.

As usual, it's the regular residents of Kalma - particularly the women, children, elderly people and other marginalised groups - who are suffering the most. Because of the riots, two sectors of Kalma are currently without water (not surprisingly, the state water company whose staff were taken hostage have not yet returned to the camp). Tensions continue to rise, trust between all actors is eroding, and addressing the needs of those who are the most vulnerable is becoming increasingly difficult.

The international community - led by the UN agencies and the African Union who have a mandate for this sort of thing - are currently trying to negotiate some solutions and ideas for restoring order in Kalma camp. The sooner they find them the better.


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