Peace Corps suspends program in Kenya amidst on-going violence

Kenya has had a spike in bombings and violence, especially on the coast. Most of the violence is thought to be associated with Al Shabaab militants from Somalia, but there is a wider political crisis brewing between rival ethnic political groups that last fought in 2007-2008 associated with national elections.

In response to the surge in violence, Peace Corps is temporarily moving 50 volunteers out of the country. This happened just a short time before Peace Corps also announced the move to evacuate more than 300 volunteers from West Africa in light of the Ebola virus outbreak.

Here is a story in the Washington Post on the move:

 The Peace Corps is suspending its programs in Kenya because of security concerns and is pulling more than 50 volunteers out of the country until threat levels decrease, the Peace Corps and State Department said Thursday.

A statement to The Associated Press from the State Department said that the Peace Corps “has been closely monitoring the security environment in Kenya … and has decided to officially suspend the program in Kenya.” The Peace Corps will monitor the security situation and determine when volunteers can return, it said.

Here is a link to another story in a Kenyan paper

t has also come amid a tightening of security by the US Embassy in Kenya, which has seen dozens of grenade and gunfire attacks over the last two years.

Earlier this year the embassy increased the number of security personnel at the embassy and put armed Marines behind sandbag bunkers on the embassy roof.

Also moved out are regional staff at the USAID offices, with more security enhancement at the embassy in Gigiri.

The decision to suspend the Peace Corps programme has been in the works for a while but was not announced publicly.

US warnings about the high risk of terror attacks in Kenya always ruffle the feathers of Kenyan leaders, and the State Department and Peace Corps statements underscored the long US-Kenya relationship and the hundreds of millions of dollars the US pours into Kenya every year.

Recent Peace Corps volunteers in Kenya said they felt the US government program did a good job of keeping them updated about security, including the sending of security text messages, but they acknowledged that security was deteriorating and that ensuring a safe environment for the dozens of volunteers was all but impossible.

“Some volunteers weren’t very pleased with the level of security they provided, but I’m not sure what they were expecting. We don’t have security guards to protect us, and it’s Kenya, so sometimes bad things happen regardless of any preventative measures,” said Nik Schuetz, a 28-year-old volunteer in Kenya from 2009-11 now studying at the University of Kansas told the AP.

“They taught us to be smart about our surroundings and to trust the hairs on the back of our necks to sense whether it was a safe situation or not. And some things like bombings or grenade attacks, you just can’t prepare for other than leaving the country,” he said.

Anna Martin a Peace Corps volunteer in Busia, Kenya from 2010-12 who still lives in the country, said she always felt safe as a Peace Corps volunteer because the US mission was “always making the best decisions regarding our safety and well-being.”

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