Academics and Research

Research project aims to manage conflict for Kenyans

Ethnic wars, political violence and border conflicts have led to a flood of refugees and displaced citizens vying for food and health care in camps throughout East Africa. In the formerly stable and prosperous state of Kenya, political and ethnic fighting has left 1,000 dead and more than 300,000 displaced.

To stem the violence and open the doors of economic opportunity for its citizens, the United Nations has enlisted the help of DU’s Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) for a three-year research project. The project is aimed at managing conflict and building economic survival skills for those in the hardest hit regions of Kenya.

GSSW Dean James Herbert Williams and Dean Emeritus Jack Jones will lead a team of DU graduate students, U.N. aid workers and students from the University of Nairobi in a project whose impact could spread throughout East Africa.

“By collaborating with the U.N. and local groups, we hope to create strategies for social and economic development that will improve the lives of all East Africans,” Williams says. “This research has implications far beyond this area.”

Research will focus on the displaced populations of the North Rift and North Eastern regions, among the 10 poorest regions in Kenya. Largely inhabited by nomads who follow their cattle across the arid and semi-arid landscape in search of green pastures and water, these regions have seen an increase in conflicts between local residents, refugees and displaced Kenyans. Political unrest, ethnic rivalries and violent crime all add up to a disturbing conflict situation, Jones says.

GSSW researchers will begin assessing the situation in selected camps this year and, with their local partners, develop a toolkit of methodologies for conflict management and building capacity for economic development. They hope to teach displaced citizens and refugees the skills to deal with their disputes and work together to build sustainable communities. That includes developing job skills; finding access to food, health care and other basic services; and learning ways to manage their lives outside the camps.

After completing work in East Kenya, the research team will organize regional seminars on human security and conflict management throughout East Africa and share information with key stakeholders throughout Kenya. GSSW has a long history of international involvement, says Jones, and looks forward to once again sharing its expertise with people in the developing world.

The Kenya project also benefits students, says Williams, by giving them a global perspective on social work. GSSW doctoral students will work on many aspects of the project, he says, learning research methods that will engage their minds, further their study and expand their horizons.

“It enriches the learning environment,” Williams says. “If we only look at social problems from a U.S. perspective, we’re limiting our scope.”

Comments are closed.