Terrorism, armed conflict, political strife, and extreme weather events such as floods, cyclones, droughts, storms, and famine are some of the factors ravaging livelihoods across sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in largescale displacement of people. Currently, more than 26 percent of the world’s refugee population are hosted by Africa, and as the refugee crisis intensifies, the urgency for lasting solutions must be addressed at scale.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently published the Global Trends Report which indicates that by the end of 2021, the total number of persons forced to flee because of fear of persecution, violence, conflict, and human rights violations stood at 89.3 million. More than double the 42.7 million people who remained forcibly displaced a decade ago, and the most since World War II.

“Every year for the last decade, the numbers have climbed. Either the international community comes together to take action to address this human tragedy, resolve conflicts and find lasting solutions, or this terrible trend will continue,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi in the report.

The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) – a framework for more predictable and equitable sharing of responsibility recognises that sustainable solutions to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation. The GCR  provides governments, international organisations, and other stakeholders a blueprint to transform the way the world responds to refugee situations, in such a way that it benefits both refugees and their host communities.

Kenya plays host to some of the oldest and largest refugee populations on the African continent, among them Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. While the former is located in Kenya’s northeast, the latter is located in the northwest and is one of the longest-standing refugee camps in the world – a melting pot for refugees and displaced people from South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.

The International Finance Cooperation’s (IFC) 2018 study, Kakuma as a Marketplace not only quantified Kakuma’s economy but also ratified the endless possibilities of Kakuma as a marketplace.  Having understood the market dynamics in Kakuma and identifying the business opportunities the IFC, together with AECF and UNHCR designed the Kakuma Kalobeyei Challenge Fund (KKCF), a five-year programme to unlock the economic potential of refugees and their host communities in the Kakuma-Kalobeyei settlement area. It recognises that attracting private sector investment into refugee settings has the potential to create and expand job opportunities, improve the provision of quality services, as well as quality of life, which in turn plays a pivotal role in enhancing self-reliance and socio-economic integration while positively contributing to the development of the host region.

According to the UNHCR, women and girls make up close to 50 percent of the refugee and internally displaced population. As structural gender inequalities remain the most salient barrier to achieving gender parity, the KKCF is bridging this gap by developing the entrepreneurial potential of refugee and host communities respectively, with a deliberate focus on young people and women, to support their businesses to grow and by providing vocational skills training, business development services, and microfinance options.

As recorded by the Kakuma as a Marketplace report, attracting new private sector players to the area, expanding the operations of existing firms, and supporting local entrepreneurs all have the potential to expand job opportunities for refugees and the host community, as well as improve services, provide more choice, reduce prices, and contribute to self-reliance. In the spirit of the global agenda of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and, more adding momentum to the call to “leave no-one behind,” the increased role of the private sector would be beneficial for enhancing the socio-economic integration of refugees with their host communities, while contributing to the development of the hosting region.

At the AECF, we are committed to and take great pride in standing with those living in fragile contexts without forgetting refugees whose economic potential remains largely underdeveloped and untapped.