Clark University’s Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies has welcomed Victor Uhuru, the Inaugural Fellow-Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Uhuru is a graduate of the University of Nairobi in Kenya and president of the Youth Advancement Initiative, which engages young adults in decision-making processes within their communities to foster a peaceful and just society. He is taking seminar courses that allow him to examine the issues of genocide through a variety of lenses, with the hope of applying that knowledge to his own violence-prevention efforts in Kenya.
We recently sat down with Uhuru to talk about his work and his experiences at Clark.
Why did you decide to come to Clark?
I didn’t know much about the University at first. But through conversations with the Auschwitz Institute, I saw Clark as an opportunity to connect with people who are in the field of genocide studies and mass atrocities. I wanted to have exchanges with people who are working to end genocide and mass atrocities across the world.
Why did you apply for the Auschwitz fellowship?
I believe that I have a lot of responsibility for both my fellow youth and my country at large, and I see this as a place to expand my knowledge of genocide and Holocaust studies. My country, Kenya, has gone through a long conflict history, which has incited widespread violence especially during periods of intense electioneering. In 1994, our neighbor, Rwanda, experienced genocide, which claimed almost a million lives, and they are still struggling to recover from it. A lot of mass atrocities are being experienced in South Sudan and Somalia, making our country even more vulnerable to violence if the internal conflicts are not handled in good time. This is because when you look at Kenya today there is a sense of some genocide ideology being created through our current politics, making us feel that our country is at a greater risk. We are working toward preventative measures, and are focused on creating a more cohesive society where people can live as brothers and sisters.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
My experience in the 2007-2008 post-elections violence — during which my father died amidst the hostilities — informed my strong resolve to pursue peace as the greatest factor of societal co-existence. This shaped my choice for my undergraduate studies in armed conflicts and peace studies at the University of Nairobi. My further engagement with student activities programs influenced my decision to start the Youth Advancement Initiative. We believe that while youth are sometimes used to propagate violence, they are the main asset for unifying the country. If they are not well prepared to deal with issues of conflict, they are more vulnerable to be exploited to destabilize societies.
What have you learned about Clark and America as a whole?
I am happy to be here in the United States, the leading free country in the world. My first thought when I arrived was the cold — we don’t have winters like this in my country. The people here are very warm, however. You are a very solution-oriented society; I have seen that from working with the students here. Everyone wants to feel like they have something to contribute, and that’s a good feature to have as a country.
Tell us about your classes.
I am learning so much already about the role of gender in genocide prevention, activities of rescue and resistance, and understanding group behavior in the aftermath of violence. This simply means that genocide is a socially constructed ideology indiscriminate of gender identity and thrives under certain human-facilitated conditions. I am also learning about post-conflict group relations, which can be reconciled to restore harmony in a society. I feel sure that at the end of my program, I will be equipped to deal with the many complex issues around genocide and mass atrocities prevention
What knowledge will you bring back home with you?
My experience here is becoming richer day by day, but I believe the most important thing I will bring back are the ways society can be structured to create a feeling of belonging. On top of that is the exchange of information I am gaining from my classes, so that if we confront the issue of genocide in the future we will have an active role in resisting. This is a unique place to learn, with a good collection of materials allowing you to feel connected to what you are doing. I am in the best place possible, within Clark University and within America. I now believe I will be more helpful to the Kenya National Committee on Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention and other platforms for peace building.