The Nation (Nairobi)

7 April 2008

Kenya: American Peace Corps Off to Safety

Nairobi — Could they be agents of hope who ran away from the Kenyan crisis?

It is now official that the American Peace Corps are not in Kenya following the post-elections violence.

With the delay in the formation of a coalition government agreed upon by President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the Western experts multi-professional services may continue to be missed.

Although they were evacuated during the Kenyan post-elections violence, the American Peace Corps simply "ran away" from their core function of responding to crisis and spreading the gospel of peace in the world.

The American embassy confirmed that they were evacuated to safety and they have not yet returned. Their core services in the zones hit by the crisis or places they worked before the eruption of violence are demanding their presence.

Humanitarian

Embassy spokesman T.J. Dowling said: "They may come back in May, but I am not sure of the date."

Sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said most of the Peace Corps were evacuated to Tanzania and others went back home as similar agents of philanthropy such as the Red Cross Society laboured to save the country from sinking in humanitarian crisis.

A senior official in the ministry said schools and hospital authorities are calling for their return, but the Government of Kenya has no powers to dictate their work programmes.

"It is true that their services were suspended because of the post-election violence, but now schools, hospitals, and research institutions are calling us to deploy them back. We don't have such powers." he said.

The Peace Corps' main mission is to be deployed to true "crisis" situations such as disaster relief following hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions.

After the disputed presidential elections, Western experts supporting projects in Kenya as teachers, researchers, doctors and even missionaries are not yet back to their work stations.

Following the post-election violence, they were evacuated even as local residents continued to butcher each other and burn one another's homes.

Now that there is a stalemate in the formation of the Cabinet, the experts may take a long time to gain confidence that the peace process in Kenya is going to hold.

Mr Dowling said " the programme to have the experts come back is on-going and the formation of a Cabinet, standing on the strong grounds of real power sharing, to convince all players that all is well, should be hastened. Funds will also be withheld until the process is done transparently."

The American Peace Corps, who deploy hundreds of researchers, teachers, doctors and essential service staff withdrew their people to safety while over 350,000 Kenyans were holed up in pathetic camps.

The Peace Corps is an independent US federal agency. It was established by Executive Order 10924 on March 1, 1961, and authorised by Congress on September 22, 1961, with passage of the Peace Corps Act (Public Law 87-293).

The Peace Corps Act declares their purpose to be: "To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available, to interested countries and areas, men and women of the United States, qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower."

Since 1960, more than 187,000 people have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 139 countries.

Peace Corps volunteers work in over 70 countries. They work with governments, schools, NGOs, and entrepreneurs in the areas of education, health, HIV and Aids, business, information technology, agriculture and the environment.

The programme officially has three goals: to help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained workers; to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served and, to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Alerted the nation

After the September 11, 2001 attacks alerted the nation to growing anti-US sentiment in the Middle East, President George W. Bush pledged to double the size of the organisation within five years as a part of the War on Terrorism.

For the 2004 fiscal year, Congress passed a budget increase at $325 million, $30 million above that of 2003, but $30 million below the President's request.

Now, the Peace Corps is trying to double the number of volunteers it sends abroad by 2007. This is in accordance with President Bush's request in 2002.

He said: "The American reputation has taken a hit in the last couple of years. The need for the Peace Corps couldn't be more urgent.

The Peace Corps shows what is best in America, the generosity of spirit. The Peace Corps is trying to get more diverse volunteers of different ages. This is important so that the Peace Corps can look, according to former director Gaddi Vasquez, "more like America."

In 1961, only 1 per cent of volunteers were over 50, compared with six percent today. Minimum qualification for Crisis Corps volunteers include completion of at least one year of Peace Corps service, excluding training, in addition to medical and legal clearances.

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