Even as university authorities seek to assure foreign students of their welfare during the upcoming Kenyan elections, some students have safety concerns about the highly contested August 8 polls, fearing a possible outbreak of violence.
Kenya has been holding elections every five years, but a bitter dispute over the presidential poll in 2007 led to a month-long conflict that left 1,000 people dead.
Subsequent 2012 polls were however peaceful and authorities are doing everything in their power to ensure that peace prevails in this year’s elections.
“I am a bit worried about what will happen after the final result is announced; it is very difficult to predict,” said Gamachu Eba, a third year international relations student from Ethiopia studying at Daystar University. “The political climate in Kenya seems more complicated than before. The tension between the government in place and the opposition party is not good and the race will be tight,” he said
Some students from other African countries studying in Kenya said the possible outbreak of violence reminds them of unrest at home.
“Many international students are scared especially those who have experienced violence during elections”
“Foreigners are particularly vulnerable to harassment when caught up in a foreign hostile political environment. I am deeply concerned, but pray peace will prevail,” said Joece Dmachar, a third year economics student from South Sudan studying at Daystar University, whose fears are deepened by the fact that her own country has been under the grip of political violence for years now.
Naomi Dan Karami, a fourth year psychology student at Daystar originally from Niger commented, “Many international students are scared especially those who have experienced violence during elections. Some have already booked their plane tickets to go home while others are trying to sort out where to stay during this election.”
Kenyans will be electing a president, a parliament and local politicians, including county governors next month. The two main candidates for the presidency are the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, the country’s former prime minister, who also ran in 2013 against Kenyatta, and in 2007 against Mwai Kibaki.
United States International University (USIU-Africa) and Daystar University, two of Kenya’s most international institutions, will be on summer break during the poll period but public institutions will close to facilitate participation of learners and lecturers at the polls.
According to the Daystar’s registrar Paul Mbutu, interruption of academic affairs is not expected because students will be on recess during elections.
The university has around 600 international students from 31 African countries, representing about 20% of its total student population.
Student placement and international relations officer Grace Karanja said the elections are to a “large extent” not causing any apprehension among foreign students, adding that even in the event of insecurity, the institution had measures in place to ensure that its student population was safe.
The university’s August 6-21 semester break falls in the time just before, during and immediately after the elections, and most international students will have travelled home, Karanja noted.
“As a measure of preparedness, however, in the event of any eventuality, foreign students who live on campus and are willing to stay during the break are assured of safety while on campus,” she told The PIE News.
“Daystar has in place tight security measures on its campuses and such will be heightened particularly around the electioneering period,” she said.
“Security measures on campuses will be heightened particularly around the electioneering period”
She added that media reports about potential or real threats in the period prior to the election could impact the impression international students have of studying at universities in Kenya.
“However, Daystar is looking to maintain the same level of admission or even higher because the services we offer to our students are not dependent on a change of government”, Karanja noted.
The optimism is shared by USIU-Africa which said it does not anticipate any violence during the election based on the 2012 polls which were peaceful and incident free.
“USIU-Africa and the country in general is preaching peace and we know that what we put out there is the perception that will be taken by our potential students, so we have no reason to believe that this election will affect our student numbers,” said a spokesperson.
The institution has a student population of 7,005, 14% of whom are international students drawn from 65 different nationalities.
The institution will be on summer holidays during the polling period and is not concerned about the safety or welfare of its international students, the spokesperson confirmed.
Elsewhere in the country’s higher education sector, teams are working to ensure systems for establishment of the bilateral German Eastern Africa University of Applied Sciences are in place before the election date.