This year’s Peace Fellow is Clifford Okwany from Kenya. He is the third Peace Fellow to stay on Åland. Last Sunday he set foot on Ålandic soil for the first time – and now he is installed with us at the Peace Institute.
Today the sun shines into the library, which will be his office during the fall. In two months, it will be much darker and rougher outside the window. But Cliff Okwany doesn’t mind.
– I’m quite flexible as a person, he says, explaining how he got used to the cold during an extended stay in Norway.
Norway as a country was very different from Kenya and there were things he both liked and disliked.
But Cliff always tries to hold on to the good things.
– I am driven by a passion to learn new things and in every new situation I look for what it could be,” he says.
He has always had that curiosity. However, he has not always liked school. A political scientist and PhD student at the University of Nairobi, Cliff grew up in the eastern part of the Kenyan capital as the third of nine siblings.
He says his sisters were much smarter than him.
– I was a bit more of a mama’s boy and I didn’t like school at all, especially that they made me do different things and I didn’t get to choose. Yet, funnily enough, I was the only one of us siblings who went on to university. It was as if over time I started to like the feeling of learning things.
Invited to Norway to study
His interest in security took him to the slums in Majengo and Mathare, including working with Pastoralists in Northern Kenya. He wanted to understand the situation of the local nomadic population.
– For a child growing up in Norway or Åland, the absence of threats is the definition of safety, but for a child growing up in the slums, the definition of safety is the absence of fear. If you overcome your fear, you survive. But there, neglected by the powers that be, there is a lot to be afraid of and many radicals try to exploit the situation and recruit members,” says Cliff.
Through his work, he came into contact with four Norwegian interns who were on an exchange program working in St. Johns in the Community Centre in Majengo, one of the exchange student, Elisabeth Kaasa Hønsvall, her parents Ingeborg and Jan Einar Karlsen invited Cliff to Norway in 2008, and later in 2014-2016 he did his master’s degree in international relations at NMBU, Ås.
– My Norwegian professor Stig Jarle Hansen became my hero. He is an expert on the issues in security studies that interest me. I still work with him and I now have a group of people in Norway that I can call my Norwegian family.
So, why Åland?
He looks out the window and smiles broadly.
– It was last year that I saw the ad. Or rather it was a friend in the US who sent it to me. Everything I came across about Åland’s demilitarization and the Åland example interested me. Then when I received Sia’s email that I had been selected among 90 applicants, I jumped up and down. I was so happy.