Amid rising insecurity, Peace Corps shuts down in Kenya

A Peace Corps health volunteer and a local health specialist conduct an education seminar about HIV and AIDS in a high school class in Kenya. The volunteering organization has decided to suspend its programs in the African country. Photo by: Peace Corps

Amid escalating security concerns, the Peace Corps decided on Thursday to suspend its programs in Kenya for the second time in half a century and evacuate more than 50 volunteers working in education, health and community and economic development.

The action was taken after safety could no longer meet assessment standards given a recent spike in grenade and gunfire assaults across the country, as well as the attack by al-Shabaab militants on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall that left 67 people dead and many more injured in September 2013.

Shira Kramer, Peace Corps press director, said they hope to be able to resume work in Kenya soon, but right now “volunteers’ safety and security are the Peace Corps’ top priorities.”

The agency, she told Devex, plans to continue to monitor the security environment and reassess the security situation “at an appropriate future date to determine if and when volunteers can return” to Kenya, where the Peace Corps has deployed over 5,000 volunteers since the program started in 1964.

Security assessments evaluate hazards, vulnerabilities, potential impacts on volunteers’ well-being, and volunteers’ ability to be productive in their community. A typical assessment considers medical infrastructure, crime rates, police response, communication systems and transportation. The agency collaborates with the host country government, the U.S. embassy and other international organizations in the process.

The Kenya program was temporarily suspended in early 2008 due to unrest following elections, and volunteers returned about four months later. Earlier this year, the Peace Corps suspended its program and pulled out its volunteers from Ukraine for similar security concerns following the conflict with Russia over Crimea.

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.