Designing settlements for integrated self-reliance.

In 2015 a new refugee settlement was created in the Turkana area of Kenya. National and international partners agreed that the settlement would be designed with an emphasis on promoting integrated self-reliance for refugees and the host community. A multi-agency collaboration was to develop the Kalobeyei Integrated Social and Economic Development Programme (KISEDP) to support the local economy and set up service delivery at the Kalobeyei site. The aims would be to have shared access to social provision and a common market place. Although the trajectory of the project has since adapted to accommodate the influx of South Sudanese refugees, it offers a unique opportunity to study the creation of a newly designed and ‘innovative’ refugee camp design.

In collaboration with the World Food Programme, we are following South Sudanese and Somali refugees in both Kakuma and Kalobeyei to examine what difference the new camp design makes to refugee self-reliance and food security. Our approach is based on both qualitative and quantitative data collection across three different periods of data collection. The work aims to explore what difference ‘design’ makes in comparison to a longstanding ‘organic’ camp structure and to provide specific insights relevant to improving programming in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. In order to achieve these goals, we have collected baseline data on self-reliance and the socio-economic conditions of refugees living in Kalobeyei and Kakuma, and are monitoring changes over a three year period.


The Kalobeyei Model: Towards Self-Reliance for Refugees? 

Following our report Self-Reliance in Kalobeyei? Socio-Economic Outcomes for Refugees in North-West Kenya based on our baseline data collection in 2017, we returned to Kenya in 2018 to continue our three-year research project conducted in collaboration with the World Food Programme following newly arrived refugees integrated into the new Kalobeyei settlement and the old Kakuma refugee camp since 2016.

In the study, we follow newly arrived South Sudanese refugee in both Kalobeyei and Kakuma in order to compare outcomes over time, and identify what difference the Kalobeyei settlement makes in comparison to the Kakuma model. We also follow newly arrived Ethiopian and Burundian refugees with Kalobeyei.

In our first report, we argued that, despite the unexpected arrival and settlement of large numbers of South Sudanese, Kalobeyei has retained a significant commitment to self-reliance. The settlement’s physical planning and design cater for subsistence agriculture and establish designated business areas.  Other innovative interventions have included cash-based food assistance called Bamba Chakula (‘get your food’ in Swahili) and, more recently, the world’s first ‘cash for shelter’ project, giving money to allow refugees to be involved in the design and construction of shelter. The baseline data revealed that refugees in both Kalobeyei and Kakuma were far from self-reliant. Significant constraints remain in creating functioning labour markets, access to finance, functional infrastructure, and freedom of movement, for example.

The report The Kalobeyei Model: Towards Self-Reliance for Refugees? covers the two waves of data collection carried out in 2017 and 2018 with the same randomly sampled respondent population. We find that indicators for self-reliance outcomes for newly arrived refugees in Kakuma and Kalobeyei are similarly poor, although Kalobeyei residents have achieved slightly higher levels of dietary diversity, food consumption, calorie intake, and food security. These outcomes correlate with possessing a (harvested) kitchen garden. Kalobeyei also offers higher levels of interaction between the refugee and host communities.

Our data shows that refugees in Kakuma and Kalobeyei remain a long way from achieving self-reliance. Despite some progress, most refugees are unable to meet their basic socio-economic needs and are dependent on aid. Our findings have sobering implications for the very concept of ‘self-reliance’ and reinforce our initial argument that the possibility for self-reliance in Kalobeyei and Kakuma will have to come from the large-scale macro-economic development of the wider Sub-County of Turkana West.


Doing Business in Kakuma: Refugees, Entrepreneurship, and the Food Market

In 2018 we also carried out a business survey with food retailers to assess the impact of the 'Bamba Chakula' model of electronic food transfers and business contracts. 

The Bamba Chakula (‘get your food’ in Swahili) programme is a cash-based intervention designed by World Food Programme (WFP) as an alternative to in-kind food assistance. Started in 2015, it represents a transitional arrangement between in-kind and full-cash assistance. At the time of our data collection, in Kalobeyei, refugees received nearly all food assistance through BC, while in Kakuma, about 70% of food assistance was in-kind and the rest is through Bamba Chakula.

Overall, understanding the Bamba Chakula experience in Kakuma offers insights of wider relevance into how markets emerge and develop in refugee camps and settlements, the process of transition from in-kind to cash-based assistance, and what determines entrepreneurial success in a refugee camp. It also poses challenging questions about the appropriate role for humanitarian organisations in regulating markets. We offer a series of practical recommendations relating to the transition to cash assistance, the potential of Bamba Chakula to be replicated elsewhere, and the relationship between self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and food assistance.


Funding: World Food Programme

Top photo: credit to A. Betts