Monday, April 04, 2016

Monsters of our own making

Before someone attempts to sanitise it, let us agree on one thing: what the hooligans of the University of Nairobi are engaged in is not a student protest or a student strike but a riot. There is no logical reason why Kenyans should become the targets of students who are unhappy about one thing or the other. Today, students are rioting at what they perceive to be an unfair state of affairs regarding the re-election of an elder student, Babu Owino, as the Chairman of the Students' Organisation of Nairobi University. Riotous students believe that Mr Owino should never have been permitted to stand in the election for a fourth term. In any case, they have vandalised university property and damaged private property. It is unlikely that these students will compensate anyone for the damage.

Before we point our fingers, let us remember that these young men and women are a reflection of the state of our public institutions in many cases. I would put money down that if the members of the disciplined services were permitted to form unions or to go on strike, this nation would be brought to its knees by their demands because the dysfunction in these institutions has already gotten out of hand. The state of education in Kenya is witness to the mismanagement of public institutions; the constant teachers' and lecturers' strikes are proof that sooner or later, something has got to give.

Mr Owino is nobody's fool, and his expert manipulation of the University of Nairobi Senate is proof of his chops. Mr Owino is more like the sneaky A.F. Sen Mike Sonko, exploiting his large following (and its potential for extreme violence) to get his way on a myriad of things, the least not being multiple bites at the apple of SONU chairmanship. He has re-branded himself on several occasions, but at his core he remains the gauche quasi-politician he has always been. Mr Owino may be a millionaire student leader, and he may have rubbed shoulders with the President and other serious men and women, but he is still the spanner boy looking for a seat at the table. That day isn't coming.

Mr Owino is a reflection, too, of the rot in leadership in this period of transition. There isn't a public official who leaves their position willingly when their time is up. The Deputy Chief Justice, on some of the most specious grounds, has refused to retire from the Judiciary upon attaining the age of seventy years. Prof Olive Mugenda fought her retirement all the way to the Supreme Court. And until Uhuru Kenyatta fired them, the six Cabinet Secretaries who had "stepped aside" still insisted that they should be "allowed to serve the people of Kenya" until their terms of office expired. Mr Owino is no different from these "leaders."

The frustrations of Mr Owino's constituents are similar to the frustrations of other kinds of constituents who have been disappointed by their leaders and who know that the only way they can register their displeasure is through violent acts. Mr Owino and the leadership of the University of Nairobi have fed the monster and now they are witnessing the backlash of a monster that has outgrown the both of them.

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