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Why media can’t close one eye as public varsities are crippled by wrangles

Universities have remained revered institutions of human capital development, relied upon by society for knowledge empowerment and self-liberation.

In the 1990s during the Second Liberation struggle, many dons were persecuted, some even incarcerated as they fought to safeguard the integrity of universities and protect democracy against autocracy.

The country was under one-man rule of Daniel Moi or “Nyayo”, who roared and wananchi quaked under him.

As scholars they could see clearly where the true north lay, and they vowed to liberate the nation and its vulnerable citizens. For this noble cause, several dons had to dry their tears on the way to the airport to catch a plane into exile. Such was the zealousness and impression left behind by these remarkable dons, that their “works of mercy” cannot be forgotten.

Dons were the beacons of hope. Upcoming generations could bank on them as role models.

But look at what is happening to some of the public universities three decades later. Some are turning into disgraceful places, courtesy of power struggles.

Such was the case between August and September, when Kenyans were treated to a free drama at the University of Nairobi, as the vice chancellor Prof Stephen Kiama, who was supposed to proceed on his six-month leave ending in January 2024, returned to campus, abruptly. Already, the university council had picked his deputy Prof Julius Ogeng’o to act as VC.

Prof Kiama’s return created some confusion in the university’s administration, structure, as other dons, and departmental heads didn’t know who to report to. When this leadership circus didn’t appear to end, the university council decided that Prof Kiama continues with his leave, anyway.

It is public knowledge that before Prof Kiama took over as VC, he was embroiled in a protracted tussle with Prof Isaac Mbeche who was contesting the position.

Although journalists constantly reported on the drama, still media should have investigated what compelled Prof Kiama to return to campus. Investigative journalism should have dug deeper to establish facts on what has been transpiring during Prof Kiama’s leadership.

Rolling the tape back, a similar tussle ensued at Moi University between 2016 and 2018, culminating in the removal of Prof Laban Ayiro as acting VC, replaced by Prof Isaac Kosgey.

In 2018, the media reported how local leaders threatened to stop an upcoming graduation ceremony if Prof Kosgey was not named as the replacement for long-serving Prof Richard Mibey.

Daystar University was to later pick Prof Ayiro as its vice chancellor, in February 2019.

In November, Prof Ayiro, who was dismissed from Moi University under a wave of accusations, was conferred with Uongozi Award as the country’s best VC.

“We’re sorry, locals tell former Moi University VC Laban Ayiro”, screamed a Nation online headline on Tuesday, November 28.

Now residents want Prof Kosgey removed, citing a host of issues such as infiltration of drugs and sexual molestation of students, nepotism, and tribalism in staff recruitment, among other issues.

With local political classes meddling in the affairs of universities, adding more fuel to the already smouldering fire of power control, this will lead to the degrading of public universities, and it’s about time journalists focused on these systematic wrangling likely to take a toll on our once vibrant institutions of higher learning.

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