By GisesaÂ Mang’enya
Long hours of protest on Wednesday and Tuesday night at Kenyatta University highlight increasing cases of student protests over administration interference in student elections.
In past five years, a majority of students who have been suspended from the university have been affiliated to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and, later, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD).
The universityâ€™s Vice Chancellor Prof Olive Mugenda has openly shown her affiliation to TNA and Jubilee, the current regime headed by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
This month, Prof Mugenda accompanied President Uhuru Kenyatta to The Hague when the President who is accused of war crimes travelled to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a Status Conference. Sadly, among the victims of the 2007 post-election violence are several students and parents of the institution.
Lecturers have also complained over tribalism in appointments and promotions with the VC being put on the spot for enhancing tribalism at Kenyaâ€™s second oldest institution of higher learning.
Despite issues being raised on her integrity, Prof Mugenda is fiercely feared in newsrooms where editors fear that publication or airing of any story that is deemed negative will lead to withdrawal of advertisements. The University is among the biggest advertisers in Kenya.
Prof Mugenda is a board member at Nation Media Group where editors have been briefed to sing her praises while keeping a blind eye on accusations over her management style and skewed promotions.
Standard Group has also shied away from publishing controversial information about her as the media house struggles to attract advertisements from the university.
In the most recent case, the students are protesting over the disqualification of a leading candidate identified as Sammy Owino for the position of Kenyatta University Students Association (KUSA) presidency.
Owino was disqualified 48 hours to the election in what the electoral body cited that his supporters had engaged in acts of violence during campaigns at the Ruiru Campus. However, his main opponent George Thuku, whose supporters were also involved in the protests was not disqualified.
Dr Andanje Mwishukha, the KUSA election commission chairman, said in a memo dated October 14 that the decision to bar him from the race was arrivedÂ at after Owino allegedly caused havoc and destruction of property while campaigning in Ruiru Campus.
In the past seven years, university officials who oversee the elections have disqualified students who are deemed to be against the university management from vying. In reality, sadly, these students belong to a specific community and, or, group of communities in Western Kenya. I mean Luos; I mean Luhyas; I mean Kisiis and a few Kambas have lately joined the fray.
Student leaders have interpreted the disqualification as â€œrigging before votingâ€ since normally such actions have given advantage to weaker aspirants who are ‘friendly’ to the administration in winning the seats.
The university has also changed the names of the student leaders in the ballot papers, an act aimed at confusing their supporters on the voting day.
One such act of impunity is best interpreted through a popular student leader known as Victor Jaringa who was vying for the position of Secretary General four years ago.Â A few hours to the elections, on the ballot paper the university omitted his popular name Jaringa and instead used his third name Okeyo that students had never had of before.
Among all the universities in Kenya, Kenyatta is facing the highest number of court cases by students and student leaders who have taken the administration to court over disciplinary actions deemed punitive and unfair.
After the disqualification of Owino, a section of students demonstrated in the university destroying property of unknown value.
In February, four university students were suspended and expelled after protesting when they allegedly discovered Presidential election materials at the institution.
The four, Mr Oluoch Dan Owino, Mr Odhiambo Justus Onyango, Mr Omondi Ochieng Jilali and Ms Odera Anyango Beatrice filed a petition at Milimani High Court to have their suspensions and expulsion from the university reversed.
In 2009, the university suspended and expelled about 50 students after twin student protests that have been identified by parliament as the costliest student disturbances in the history of the country.
This year, Moses Nandalwe, who is among the student leaders expelled in 2009 went to court seeking compensation.
The former Academic Secretary and Secretary General to the Universities Student Leaders Association Kenyan Chapter Moses Nandalwe said that he was seeking justice from the courts after the university indicted him for playing a role in the violent unrests.
He said that a parliamentary committee found him and other student leaders who were punished over the strikes innocent.
Mr Nandalwe claims that he was treated inhumanly while at various police stations among them Kahawa Sukari, Kasarani and Industrial area where he spent days without being taken to court.
The court case was filed five years after the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Research and Technology inquiry into the studentsâ€™ disturbances at Kenyatta University in March 2009 released its report.
The two strikes happened on March 18, 2009 and weeks later on March 29, 2009. On both occasions, the management closed the university.
The estimated cost of the first strike was Sh15 million.
The parliament committee that was chaired by David Koech held 13 sittings where they interrogated various stakeholders who included the Senate, Kenyatta University Council, lecturers, members of staff, students and religious organisations from the University and Ministers for Higher Education and Internal security.
The report released in October 2009 established that varied reasons were responsible for the studentsâ€™ unrests amongst them registration deadline, poor relationship between the students and university administration, rumour mongering and suspension of KUSA officials.
Other reasons included a penalty of Sh1000, shortened semesters, weak and highly centralized management systems, negative ethnicity, new KUSA leadership, role of the neighbouring community, poor coordination of the security system, university staff and non-reconciliation of studentsâ€™ fees balances.
The VC Prof Olive Mugenda told the committee that the registration deadline was not a new policy stating that â€œit would have been unfair to allow extension of registration deadline in favour of those who had disregarded the University policy and stayed on illegally in expense of those who had already called off the semester.â€
Prof Mugenda said that by the expiry of the registration period on February 13, 2009, a total of 15,448 students out of the expected 17,000 had fully registered. However, her explanation did not match allegations by students that almost a half of the student population did not meet the registration deadline.
The strike was aggravated by combined efforts of gross animosity and suspicion, communication breakdown and irrational decisions and distrust between the student body and university administration.
â€œ The committee is also of the view that the widely held suspicions by the administration of internal and external forces working to destabilize the institution and remove the Vice Chancellor overshadowed any meaningful effort to dialogue and resolve the studentsâ€™ grievances objectively,â€ the report states.
The university senate interviewed 50 students suspected to be masterminds of the disturbances and â€œrecommended suspension and expulsion of 14 and 11 students, respectively, while the rest were exonerated.â€
In their defence, the student leadersâ€™ officials stated â€œwhatever action they took during the unrests; they were acting on behalf of the students who elected them to those positions.â€
The committee recommended for â€œunconditional readmissions of all suspended and expelled students to continue with their education.â€
Despite such a detailed recommendation, the university failed to admit any of the students.
CORD blogger and former student leader Â Dikembe Disembe has urged the university to ban students association which are wholly political and, for God’s sake, form saccos which can be run with the mentality of Prof. Mugenda.
The controversial blogger recently graduated from Moi University which he calls ‘home’.