Update on University of Eastern Africa in Baraton

I blogged about this situation here. Since then people have been holed up at the univeristy which is still surrounded by over 1000 Kalenjins. Caesar Wamalika, chaplain at the University of Eastern Africa in Baraton, gives a personal account of what has been happening. The area has descended into lawlessness as several militias battle each other. Many people of various ethnicities were forced to leave the university under police escort and are now camped at the police station in Eldoret. There is no clean water or food and there are fears that both locations could be stormed any day now.

Caesar Wamalika, chaplain at the University of Eastern Africa in Baraton, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, spoke to the BBC to give a personal account of how a crowd of more than 1,000 people threatened to storm his campus unless some ethnic groups left.

“It all began soon after the election results were announced. A number of groups from the local community broke into war songs and raided the shopping centre next to the university.

They looted all the shops that belong to Kikuyus and Kisiis. Then they broke into the rented off-campus houses of some students and then a crowd of about 1,000 people surged to the university gate and shouted that they wanted to storm the university.

They demanded that all Kikuyus, Kambas, Meru, and Kisii people leave the university within two hours. That was the only way to save the university from being stormed.

They said they would stay at the gate until their demands were met. Three armed policemen arrived and spent time negotiating with the crowd. Finally the police advised us to evacuate the named ethnic groups.

All of them are armed with machetes, bows and arrows. Some are drunk and others baying for blood

We put those specified faculty and students, numbering about 250, into three university vehicles and they were taken to Kapsabet Police station under police escort. They have been there for four days. Several attempts have been made to take them home.

The police tried and take them to Eldoret international airport but there were too many road blocks set up by different gangs and so they had to return to the police station. There is no way anyone can get out.

The situation at the police station is not good. There is no food or clean water, but their worst fear is the possibility of the station being stormed, as such threats have been made. The police are few and overstretched.

There are about 300 faculty members from the Luo and Luhyia community, international workers and students who are still holed up within the campus with me.

We have been having daily threats from the crowds of people outside the campus. On one occassion, we had to give a bull for them to slaughter to guarantee us peace.

It is a nightmare to meet them. All of them are armed with machetes, bows and arrows. Some are drunk and others baying for blood. I have never seen anything like this. One needs to be diplomatic when speaking to them.

We have managed to succeed in pleading with the militia to allow us transport to send food to those at the police station. It took three hours to go through road blocks to reach Kapsabet, which is only 15 km away.

There has been a change of heart from some commanders and militia leaders who have the university’s adminstration. They said that on humanitarian grounds, the faculty with children and pregnant mothers should be allowed to return to the campus.

They also told us students of the other communities should also be allowed back. It sounded like good news. We shook hands. We asked them to transport food to Kapsabet. They agreed and used their own vehicles.

But the food never arrived. We then found out that the militia who were escorting the food had been beaten and their vehicles smashed by another group.

That is the problem we are facing – having to negotiate with different militia groups who all have their own separate terms that we have to try and fulfil. The roadblocks are manned by between 100 and 500 people – in some major road blocks you will have a thousand.

This morning, as a political rally was announced, the crowd came again to the university gate, this time demanding that we join them in a mass demonstration. We feared being put on the front line and probably be first to face the armed police.

Our University public relations officer managed to negotiate with them to leave – but they have chained the main gate, locked it and gone away with the key. No vehicle can get in or out of the campus now. We pray that they don’t come again to force us out.

There is a shortage of essential items. Nowhere to buy food, we don’t have telephone calling cards and there is no fuel. The market is deserted and shops are closed. While the situation is calming down, there is still fear of what the next day might bring. We are still making efforts to escort our faculty safely away from the police station. “

UPDATE: 16th January

Some faculty, students and staff are returning to the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton after post-election violence in Kenya forced a January 6 evacuation of some 280 people from the campus. The school reopened Monday January 14 with classes starting today.

The school’s vice-chancellor, Nathaniel Walemba, said he is expecting some 1,600 students out of the full 2,300-student body to return this quarter. Some of the lecturers have not yet returned from the church’s regional headquarters in Nairobi after being evacuated.

Walemba said Wednesday that only 500 of the 1,200 students who registered online have returned to campus.

“The opposition has declared that today, tomorrow and Friday are dates of public demonstrations, so many parents are still apprehensive and haven’t sent their children back. They are waiting until Sunday to send them.”

It is unclear what has happened to the 250 faculty staff and students that were evacuated to Eldoret.

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