What you need to know:
- The chairman has chosen to live among his people, insisting that all IDPs have to be resettled
He drives a Toyota Hilux Surf, carries a laptop and a BlackBerry phone, holds sway over 12,000 desperate Kenyans while politicians and policemen hate him in equal measure.
It, therefore, takes some convincing that Peter Kariuki Githinji is an internally displaced person living in a tent.
On many occasions since the 2007 post-election violence, the 30-year-old Kariuki has been on the frontline of demonstrations against the government, keeping the anti-riot police along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway busy.
On a visit to the Mawingu camp recently, we meet a simple Kariuki, in gumboots, ready for farm work.
It is hard to believe that one word from him can make all the 12,000 IDPs at the camp walk the 30 kilometres to the highway to stage a demonstration over the poor conditions in which they live.
The four-wheel-drive car and other electronics are all property the IDPs, he says, he is only the national chairman of the IDPs organisation.
The car has sent many tongues wagging, that he could be squandering money meant for IDPs. He dismisses this suggestion insisting that it belongs to all IDPs in the camp.
He produces documents showing that the car is registered in the name of Rift Valley IDPs Community-Based Organisation.
The refugees, he says, chose to purchase the car due to failure by the government to provide an ambulance to the camp, yet people kept falling sick at night due to the harsh conditions in which they lived.
The government vehicle that used to ferry them to hospital was often late, by which time some of them were too sick to be moved.
“Every person in the camp contributed Sh1,000 towards the purchase of the car, and they are all free to use it as long as they keep it in good condition,” says Kariuki.
His camp has a DSTv satellite dish and a large television screen, where everyone congregates every evening to watch news.
He says that the IDPs themselves purchased the items.
“Who says that an IDP has to live like a dead person?” he asks. “People are concerned when we drive good cars and carry laptops and phones, because they want us to live like condemned people.”
His sway over fellow IDPs means politicians always approach him when they need support.
“Many politicians think I harbour political interests but my only aim is to get my people resettled.”
He insists that the government has to resettle the IDPs on suitable land.
“We were living a comfortable life before the chaos, the government should not make us feel as if it is doing us a favour by resettling us,” insists Kariuki.
He once forced the minister for Special Programmes, Esther Murugi, to pledge on national television that the resettlement process would be complete by December 31, 2010.
The promise was broken, and the IDPs once again took to the road, with Kariuki ending up at Naivasha Prison.
Among his charges was trying to remove the current government from power.
“I’m just a tiny man who sends shivers in politicians’ spines, but I do not have the power to topple the government .”
He says the IDPs have lost faith in the government’s pledges.
“The reason we were displaced is because politicians could not solve their personal differences. Why do they want to drag us in their dirt?” he asks.
He has tried to make the IDPs lives comfortable. The camp now has a borehole, with part of the water on sale. The camp also has a battery charger, a brick-making machine and a public address system for rent.
He says he used to live in Chepsion in Kipkelion, where he worked as a carpenter before chaos broke out in 2008.
He was sneaked out of a church to a local police station before he ferried his wife and two children to Nakuru ASK showground IDP camp.
He then moved into a relative’s house in Nakuru since his wife, a Kalenjin, could not be allowed to live in the camp.
“People threatened her, accusing her tribe of being behind the fighting. Some even threatened to kill her yet she was eight months pregnant.”
However, he was elected chairman of the IDPs in absentia, meaning he had to move back into the camp and his troubles begun. He was abducted and tortured for three days by unknown people who dumped him at Kinale forest.
Back at camp, IDPs started protesting against his kidnapping. In the ensuing chaos, one of them was shot dead. He was rescued by police, who took him to hospital, where he stayed for 21 days.
“My welcome back to camp made me shed tears. I was welcomed like a king. These people had so much faith in me, I just could not betray that trust,” he says.