Somali refugees living in Kenya now have another path to building new lives with the opening of Kenyatta University on the grounds of the largest refugee camp in the country. The university, located in Dadaab, will begin classes next year and will offer programs in marketing, finance, project management and even peace and conflict studies; a subject area close to the heart of its prospective students, many of whom fled their home country to get away from ongoing ethnic and cultural strife.
Many who have made the camp their home over the more than two decades of its existence hope that by enrolling in the university, which will begin to accept students in January, they can expand their horizons beyond Dadaab, which some have lost all hope of ever leaving. Mohamed Bashir Sheik, who has lived in the camp since he was 4, says he already decided that he will apply as soon as the university begins its admissions process.
Dominik Bartsch, head of operations for the UN Refugee Agency, said the agency would try to forge partnerships with universities and donors to offer scholarships to refugees. "There is no tertiary education in any refugee site worldwide," he said. "A site was made available and now Kenyatta University has to proceed and put everything in place."
Bartsch indicated that, at least initially, two-thirds of the university spots will be reserved for refugees and the rest will be allocated to local Dadaab residents. He added that this will allow the two communities, which have traditionally kept apart from each other, to mix.
Those who can afford the fees, or who can line up sponsors to cover their tuition, will have an advantage by beginning classes at Kenyatta early in 2013. For the rest, tuition-free spaces will be open late next year. The expense of education for those who can't pay the required fees will be covered by the borderless higher education for refugees project.
The presence of so many Somali refugees in Kenya – in Dadaab and in Nairobi – has long been controversial, with Kenyan government officials repeatedly calling on international NGOs to repatriate Somalis to safe areas in their homeland. These calls have increased in recent months as African Union peacekeepers, including Kenyan troops, have begun notching up victories against al-Shabaab, whose fighters impose a harsh form of sharia law in the areas of Somalia they control. The peacekeepers, known as Amisom, drove al-Shabaab out of the capital, Mogadishu, last year and have seized a string of towns in the south.