Kenyan Peace Deal Received With Hope Among Duke Faculty

Published March 3, 2008

As news came out on February 28 that an historic agreement was signed by Raila Odinga and Prisdent Kibaki to end Kenya’s post-election unrest, faculty and staff at Duke were beginning to nurture the hope that the country will soon return to normal and interrupted relationships with Kenyan colleagues will once again blossom.

Kenya has been plagued with political and ethnic violence since the contested elections in December, 2007. More than 1,000 people were killed in the violence, while hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The pact between Odinga, leader of the opposition and a member of the Luo tribe, and President Kibaki, a member of the Kikuyu tribe, paves the way for a change in government that will attempt to move beyond the deep-seated divisions in Kenyan society.

Because of the unrest in Kenya, many Duke programs in Kenya – including health and education programs in Kenya such as WISER, summer internships through Duke Global Health Institute and Duke Engage, and a budding program for women’s health in Eldoret—have been in a peculiar state of limbo for the past two months.

“We are delighted with the progress that this agreement promises,” said Michael Merson, MD, director of the Duke Global Health Institute. “Duke has strong ties with Kenya and has been looking forward to creating even more partnerships to improve health in that country. I’m sure our faculty will be moving quickly to re-invigorate existing programs and set up new ones as soon as it seems safe to do so.”

On March 6, Duke Global Health Institute and Duke Center for International Studies will host Bob Einterz, MD, of Indiana University as the speaker at the University Seminar on Global Health.  Einterz is the co-founder of AMPATH, the Indiana University – Moi University Kenya partnership that the Duke Global Health Institute hopes to work with. Einterz is currently in Kenya, assessing the AMPATH program, and is expected to give an update on the health situation in Eldoret, Kenya at the seminar. If the situation in Kenya improves rapidly, Jeff Wilkinson, MD, a Duke professor of obstetrics and gynecology, plans to partner with AMPATH as part of Duke’s efforts to create a program in women’s health in Kenya.

Sherryl Broverman, professor of biology and director of the WISER program, said she was relieved to hear the news of the pact between the Odinga and Kibaki. “I have remained in contact with my colleague from Egerton University, Rose Odhiambo, over the past months, and it has been an incredibly difficult time for her,” says Broverman. “She is caring for several displaced people in her own home and has seen the awful segregation occurring between the different tribes in Kenya. She is grateful that Muhuru Bay – her home town where the WISER project is based—has been spared most of the violence, and reports that they are looking forward to the return of Duke faculty and students.”

Broverman hopes to travel to Kenya at the end of the semester to reconnect with Rose and other colleagues. But she doesn’t know when students will be allowed to travel to Kenya again.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation in Kenya on a daily basis,” says Gilbert Merkx, vice provost for International Affairs and Development and the Director fo the Center for International Studies at Duke. “Once we are persuaded that the new power-sharing agreement between the government and the opposition has eliminated violence, then the International Travel Oversight Committee (ITOC) will formally consider removing Kenya from the Restricted Regions List.”