Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Students, the GSU and 2017

I have no truck with hooligans, whether the target of their ire is public property or private. I will not shed tears for them when they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I will also probably discount their pleas for mitigation because mobs can never mitigate the damage they do when they go on a rampage. Be that as it may, I also have no truck with the excessive use of force by policemen, especially paramilitary police forces such as the Fanya Fujo Uone General Service Unit, GSU.

It is only the dimmest police commandant who forgets that university students the world over are the most indisciplined animals on God's Green Earth. University students are flush with their first full opportunity at hedonistic freedoms and for most if not all of them, hormonal imbalances tend to rule them. The University of Nairobi student population might go to extremes, but it is no different from the sniffy mummy's boys of Harvard or Yale. So it beggars belief that neither the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi nor the Inspector-General of Police could have anticipated that the sham of an election that saw Babu Owino "re-elected" as SONU Chairman would lead to "heightened emotions" and, as is normal for the university when emotions are heightened, street riots and violence.

Prof Mbithi is not a stranger to student elections at the university having been a senior don for many years. He is intimately familiar with the psychology, some would say psychosis, of the average University of Nairobi student. Why he, his Council and his Senate have failed to come up with a viable strategy for addressing student politics, and its aftermath, remains a mystery. What is even more baffling is the continued leaden-footedness of the Inspector-General and the Central Police Officer Commanding Station; every time there have been student elections, violence has not been far behind, whether in jubilation or frustration at the results. Why he and his officers haven't deployed their famed counter-intelligence officers to prevent the violence, is another mystery, or why they never deploy it police at well after private motorists have tasted the wrath of irate students still one more.

I wonder if it is Uhuru Kenyatta's absence that allows such asinine policing decisions such as to deploy the GSU against university student-idiots. Yes, they destroyed private and public property. Yes, they were getting out of hand. Yes, the GSU have always been deployed to quell the restive madmen of the University of Nairobi using a combination of teargas, combat boots and rungus. But none of this means anything, knowing what we know about the University, its students and their poisoned history with the Government and the police. Especially in the President's desire to continue with the facade of "police reforms," deploying the GSU simply further undermines this comfortable fiction. The GSU, when deployed against university hotheads, are the proverbial thermonuclear weapon deployed against a mosquito, that is, they are a massive overreaction to a minor problem.

What happened yesterday was asinine, both on the part of the students and the police, and it has led to the inevitable: an indefinite closure of the University. History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. It is no longer farcical what happens every time students protest some unfairness at their universities. It should not be normal to deploy a terrifying armed paramilitary force to pacify protesting students; instead, the police should be deployed to redirect human and vehicular traffic (yes, it will be inconvenient) away from the protesting students, and the University should have expert negotiators at the ready to listen to the students' grievances. A rapid pivot to violence sends sinister overtones, like is this how the massively grown GSU going to be deployed if we are unhappy with the 2017 general election results?

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