By Dikembe Disembe
Chairman of Students Organization of Nairobi University Babu Owino was among the Mashujaa Day special guests of President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House.
The student leader of Kenya’s pioneer higher education institution known for aggressive defence of students rights has been a real thorn in the flesh of Jubilee government especially Education Cabinet Secretary Prof Jacob Kaimenyi.
Several meetings to broker a truce between Babu and President Uhuru Kenyatta have always failed, with Babu’s PA Ndege Serikal lamenting that the president often call ‘at odd hours’ when Chairman [Babu] is attending to urgent comrades issues. This version may not be true. I mean, the President may not have called, after all.
Babu is a maverick who holds sway among thousands of students in the country, not just at the University of Nairobi. It may be this realization which forced State House to seek him out. Unknown to many people, the two institutions – state house and UoN – neighbour each other.
Just recently, Babu led students to the streets to demand disbursement of students loans – the government subsidy for university students. Already, Babu is a critical player in the Okoa Kenya campaigns, with sources at Okoa Kenya Secretariat saying he has so far filled 20 signature books.
Recently at a CORD rally in Nairobi, crowds roared when Babu was ‘denied’ a chance to speak, forcing no less than CORD Leader Raila Odinga to invite him to the podium, to a thunderous applause.
The rare truce between the head of state and the de factoÂ leader of university student movement in Kenya may be good news to the thousands of university students who increasingly depend on the SONU Chair to push for their demands.
The meeting also come days after Owino warned against ‘government interference’ in the selection of the successor to Prof George Magoha whose term has ended has Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi. It is believed that students at the institution want the Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof Mbithi to take over, fearing an ‘outsider’ may not understand the intricate balancing between students rights and administration demands.
“This is the pivotÂ of Kenya’s politics. We do not want a Mugenda here,” a comrade told this author, referring to Kenyatta University VC Prof Olive Mugenda whom students have accused of covert tribalism and favouritism and excess high-handedness.