Former College coach advocates Kenyan reform

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February 19, 2008

10:17 AM

p. One would think that, after three decades as Tribe volleyball coach, Debbie Hill would want a peaceful retirement.

p. But “peaceful” is not the word one would use to describe Kenya this winter, where Hill recently traveled as a volunteer for the Maasai American Organization, a Non-Governmental Organization that aims to develop communities among the Maasai, one of the country’s many ethnic groups.

p. In late December, violence in Kenya’s capital Nairobi erupted after disputed elections brought ethnic tension to the forefront.

p. Hill, a recently retired College volleyball coach, was in Nairobi a few days after the election, just as the violence began to spread.

p. Hill and Buchanan witnessed firsthand the destruction of the people of Kenya when they went to visit their favorite supermarket and found that the building had been completely demolished by fire and looting. Many similar incidents have occurred in other regions of Kenya where different tribes are fighting for domination. The newly elected president has yet to undertake any actions to resolve the issues.

p. Violence has been rampant since incumbent President Mwai Kibaki faced challenger Raila Odinga. While Odinga held a significant lead through most of the vote tallying, Kibaki was ultimately awarded the victory by the Electoral Commission. Experts speculated that corruption was a major part of the electoral process, and could not indicate a clear winner. Just hours later, members of the Luos tribe, supporters of Odinga, took to the streets in protest. While the protests were peaceful initially, they quickly became violent in nature, with Luos attacking members of the Kikuyu tribe, supporters of Kibaki. Kikuyus then began to engage in violence with Luos. The consequences of the slow shift from a political to an ethnic battle have been devastating, with events leading to instability within the country and over 1,000 deaths.

p. The Massai are a rural tribe that is, for the most part, removed from the violence within the country. This trip was the second of the year for Hill — as making the trip to Kenya has become a biannual event for Hill and her partner Dr. Camilla Buchanan. On these trips, Hill and Buchanan work on community development focusing on health and education. In order to promote more healthy lifestyles, MAO has drilled for wells, refurbished clinics and completed numerous water projects. The MAO also promotes education through school construction, scholarships and introducing education to the female population. While the MAO continued to make progress in developing the Massai community on the most recent trip, the turbulence in Kenya did not go unnoticed.

p. When Buchanan and Hill returned to America, they felt the urge to speak of the terrors they experienced. Mary Kanani ’08, a College student from Kenya, provided much insight regarding the tribal division that greatly influences current events. Kibaki is part of the privileged Kikuyu ethnic group, which makes up about 20 percent of the population. The Kikuyus have many problems with the other prominent ethnic group in Kenya, the Luos. The situation between the two has escalated be¬cause the two ethnic groups have different political aims, and the recently rigged elections angered both.

p. “People were believing in the political process,” Kanani said. “They believed in democracy.”

p. The election was highly publicized with high voter turnout, but the rigging of the election has led many Kenyans to lose faith in the government. A majority of the elected officials are crooked and openly steal from the government — factors of the underlying issues.

p. Despite these problems, many believe the conflict can be resolved.

p. “We can support Kenyans in the desire to bring resolution,” Kanani said.

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