Insecurity hampers aid work in coastal Kenya

Volunteers of an outreach program organized by the Voluntary Service Overseas International on a sponsored trek in Nairobi, Kenya, for the benefit a children’s orphanage. Heightened insecurity in parts of Kenya is affecting aid and development work in different parts of the country. Photo by: alxdxn / CC BY-NC-ND

It's becoming increasingly difficult to do any type of aid work in certain parts of Kenya, especially near the coast close to the Somali border where al-Shabab militants are very active.

Just a few days after the Peace Corps announced it was putting a (temporary) hold on its program in the country active since 1964, VSO International confirmed to Devex it will not be sending new volunteers to Kenya's coastal region

Olivia Swartz, head of people operations and change at the U.K.-based volunteer organization, explained that the assignments of its 12 volunteers in Kalifi and Malindi will not be extended beyond mid-August and no more volunteers will be placed there "until further notice.”

"The safety and well-being of our volunteers, staff and partners is always our primary concern so we do revise our advice and actions as and when new information is received," she said.

A U.S.-based health NGO, which conducts health worker training in many parts of the country but didn’t want to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation is meanwhile putting staff travel to Lamu on hold. The coastal area has been the center of attacks in recent weeks, leading local authorities to impose a monthlong, 12-hour curfew starting July 20, with an exception for those attending nightly prayers for Ramadan.

Lamu’s pristine beaches make it a popular travel destination for foreign aid workers — the island was mentioned in Alex Berenson’s recent spy novel “The Night Ranger” about the kidnapping of American aid workers by Somali militants.

The organization’s decision was preceded by a canceled field visit to Lamu in June following an armed attack in Mpeketoni town that left 60 people dead. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility as a response to Kenya's involvement in the current African Union-led military offensive against the militant group inside Somalia.

The suspension will be until the curfew ends and "business returns to normal,” an official from the organization said.

Al-Shabab operations inside Kenya grabbed international headlines following the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in September 2013. But over the past month, insecurity has centered in the coastal areas, particularly Lamu and the country’s second-largest city, Mombasa.

Are you an aid worker deployed to Kenya’s coastal regions or affected by the recent insecurity? Please share your story by leaving a comment below or sending an email to news@devex.com. Your anonymity will be respected.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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