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Violence in Kenya touches students

Friday, January 18, 2008  
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By Jonathan Cannon

As students returned from Christmas break this year, many faced traffic jams and flight delays, but greater obstacles faced two students trying to reach the Oklahoma Christian University campus for their first semester.

Roadblocks in their home country of Kenya met freshmen Ernest Changwony and Silas Kisorio on their way to the airport.

Kisorio originally planned to drive the 250 miles from his home town of Eldoret to the international airport in Kenya, but changed his plans because of the rising tensions.

“We saw in the news that all the main roads were blocked by angry youth,” Kisorio said. “My family escorted me by road to the small airport at Eldoret, [near my home]. We came across three roadblocks on the way to the airport.”

Kisorio said he was able to get by the roadblocks because he was able to speak to the people manning the roadblock in their native language, Kalenjin.

“If you could not reply [to the people at the roadblocks] you were in trouble,” Kisorio said.

After reaching the airport in Eldoret, Kisorio flew about 250 miles to Nairobi, Kenya where he was to catch his international flight, but this was not his original plan.

Though it is something that is rarely done in Kenya, the roadblocks also forced Changwony to take the short flight from Eldoret to Nairobi instead of driving to the airport in Nairobi, Changwony said.

Changwony also had to spend the night in the airport in Nairobi to ensure that he would be able to catch his flight the next day.

He said he was one of many people sleeping there for the same reason.

The roadblocks were the beginning of over a month of violence that ensued following the latest presidential election in Kenya.

The violence began very shortly after the election ended when European Union officials who were monitoring the election reported a voter turnout of 115 percent. However, Kenya’s Electoral Commission had already declared the incumbent, President Mwai Kibaki, the winner of the election and sworn him into the office.

The violence that followed occurred when a number of demonstrations protesting the results of the election broke out into riots.

The protests were lead by supports of President Kibaki’s main opposition Raila Odinga, who believe he was the actual winner of the election.

Members of the Kikuya tribe, one of about 40 different ethnic groups in Kenya and the tribe to which President Kibaki belongs, have been the target of the majority of the violence. 

The protests, which usually begin peacefully, break into violence after police attempt to disperse the crowds.

“When somebody [protests] in a peaceful way, then suddenly the police come in and they’re harassing them — using water guns, shooting over their heads — that’s when it gets into chaos,” sophomore and native Kenyan Samuel Wawire said. “In this case it’s everybody to blame [for the violence]: the protesters and the government.”

Even though the police have outlawed public gatherings of any kind in an attempt to prevent more violence, President Kibaki’s opposition is still calling for additional protests.

“They’re asking for their rights and I believe in freedom of expression,” Wawire said. “So whichever way they choose to express themselves they should be allowed to do that, because if you don’t let them you’re violating their rights.”

The United Nation, European Union and African Union have made many attempts to come to an amiable compromise, but they have not been successful.

Most of these organizations agree that the best solution is some kind of power-sharing agreement, but this idea seems to be unpopular with the people of Kenya, and officials have, so far, been unsuccessful at getting both sides to come together for talks.

“That plan is lame, because the president already declared part of his cabinet,” Wawire said. “On the other hand, if they were to share power [the president’s party] has 46 seats in parliament and the [opposing party] has 96 seats…. So if they’re going to share power they should balance it.”

Instead of this plan, most Kenyans would prefer to see the president resign or hold a new election.

The last thing most Kenyan’s seem to want is for the opposition to give up, Wawire said.

“If they accept defeat, they’ll have disappointed more than even Kenyans,” he said. “The whole world is looking to them to stand up for their rights.”

The violence has resulted in as many as 700 deaths and displaced more than 250,000 people from their homes, according to the Agence France-Presse.

In addition to the deaths and displacements, many Kenyans are facing inflated food and gas prices. The inflated prices are a result of the roadblocks, which are keeping food and other necessities for reaching their destinations, especially in the interior of the major cities.

This is has caused the stores to be short on merchandise, driving up the prices. It has been coupled with looting, price gouging and the closing of many of the smaller stores out of fear.

Wawire’s family is in one of the areas of Kenya that was feeling the effects of the inflated prices in which the price of maze, which they use to make flour, has risen from 50 cents per pound to over $2 per pound, Wawire said.

However, his parents have been able to continue working unlike many Kenyans who have been forced to stay at home.

Changwony said his family had not experienced the inflated prices because they live on the outskirts of the town, but they are still not able to travel because of the high gas prices and roadblocks.

Even though the future is unclear for Kenya and its people, both Wawire and Changwony said they hope to return home within the next year.

Wawire said he is planning to return to Kenya during the later part of the spring semester this year on a mission trip with several other college students from the area.

“I’m partially scared about going back home, that I have to confess,” Wawire said.

In addition to the potential violence that looms over Wawire’s trip, he also said finances maybe an issue because of the recent violence.

Wawire said his parents were planning to help him with his return ticket but maybe unable to now because of the inflated prices of basic goods in Kenya.

Changwony, who is planning to return home in December, also expects some financial hardship for him and his family because of the recent events.

Despite the unpredictable future, however, both are confident God will provide for Kenya and its people.

“I’m optimistic; I believe very soon it will be over,” Wawire said.

Several Oklahoma Christian student organizations are also working to aid the people of Kenya as well as comfort the Kenyan students here.

Wishing Well, Multi-cultural Student Association and Outreach are all working to raise funds for Kenya and have held prayer services for the people there.

“It gives me hope that somebody somewhere is praying,” Wawire said, “that somebody somewhere cares.”


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