Kenyan conflict disrupts East African science
The violence that continues to rock Kenya following the disputed December election has dented scientific development in the country — which serves as a hub for many international research institutions — and the East African region.
Logistical management of scientific projects has been affected in Burundi, parts of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, southern Sudan and Uganda.
With further opposition protests scheduled for this week, several Kenyan universities and research institutes have delayed re-opening following the Christmas break.
Masinde Muliro, a science and technology university in the western town of Kakamega — where six people died of gunshot wounds, houses were burnt down and shops ran out of basic goods — remains closed.
Crop and animal research has been disrupted at Moi University, based in the town of Eldoret in the Rift Valley province — considered the region worst affected by the violence.
John Simiyu, head of the emergency section in the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, which forms part of the university, said that more than 325 patients have been admitted with violence-related injuries.
Miriam Gaceri Kinyua, an agriculture lecturer at Moi University, told SciDev.Net that although the post-election violence has displaced scientists working and living in affected areas, field research projects undertaken by the university remain unscathed thus far. But she noted that efforts to fund several future projects had been thrown into turmoil by the violence.
"Though the fracas did not spoil our projects, it has interfered with the normal operations of our research programmes,'' said Kinyua, who directed the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) projects to design wheat varieties resistant to rust fungus at their station in Njoro — which has been hit hard by clashing supporters.
Catherine Mgendi, of the Nairobi office of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), said that although their researchers have delayed returning to work, no research projects have been destroyed nor researchers hurt. She expects full operations to resume once calm returns.
But work has been severely disrupted at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, whose fence borders Nairobi's Kibera slum — home to thousands of opposition supporters, and another area badly affected by the violence and the subsequent outbreak of disease.
Science projects around Kenya are expected to return to normal with the announcement that Noah Wekesa has been retained as minister of science and technology by the current government, a position he held prior to the elections.