WHY KENYAN UNIVERSITIES ARE PRODUCING WORSE LEADERS TODAY THAN YESTERDAY

A university is a microcosm of a nation. It is in fact a representation of the nation’s best. The oldest institutions of learning have long acknowledged and advanced this thinking.

The mission statement of Havard university for instance states that ‘, The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society.’

This statement implies that the college is a place which will give the nation leaders in sports, arts, philosophy, science, law, business etc.

The big question of our time is whether our universities are doing justice in providing leaders capable of resolving our longstanding nightmare of tribalism, greed for power and plunder of national resources.

Even the meanest pessimist of student affairs agrees that there was a time when leadership at university was ideology driven.

The ideology demanded for an egalitarian society guided by transparency and accountability in public affairs. The energy of these demands frightened the Kenyan government of the day into a paranoia that in most cases resulted in needless persecution of the young ideologues.

Decades down the line, names from the golden era of university student leadership still remind the nation how  genuine, conscientious student leadership can drive the democratic transformation of a society.

These names include the likes of the late Karl Marx and GPO oulu. We still celebrate Kabando wa Kabando, Wafula Buke, Ababu Namwamba and James Orengo. The university also gave us the greatest orator and philosopher of our time, a man who reminds one of Mwalimu Nyerere in PLO Lumumba.

Mwandawiro Mghanga leads the social Democratic Party that has been extremely active in not just pushing a leftist agenda but also social justice. Prof Anyang Nyongo even when he served in government maintained a certain admirable measure of cool radicalism.

When weighed against these great titans who obviously have the advantage of age and history on their side, the current crop of university student leadership comes a cropper.

This week Kenyans openly condemned a letter allegedly written by the chairman of the Students Organisation of Nairobi University – SONU , Mr Babu Owino to the American ambassador to Kenya.

The said letter while making a legitimate demand to have president Barack Obama visit the university during his forthcoming visit to Kenya was grossly polluted by childish blabber that was not only immature but also obscene.

While the letter raises real questions on the character of its author, it also raises serious concerns about the quality of the process of picking student leadership in Kenyan universities and colleges.

Traditionally student leaders were picked based on a solid criteria: oratory skills, political intelligence, courage and a track record of demonstrated comradeship.

Modern student politics is guided by tribalism, big money and the capacity to unleash violence on fellow students. These vices of course mirror the state of African politics in most cases before the advent of multi-party democracy.

When we talk of university leadership in our age we are speaking of a paradox in which contrary to the dictates of logic, the university lags behind the nation on leadership and integrity. The university remains firmly anchored in a history of darkness at worst. At best university leadership is spoken of in terms of being a mirror rather than a model for society.

Violence is synonymous with every student election at the University of Nairobi in the past decade. The culture of ‘goonism’ is entrenched and often gets to a crescendo during the electioneering period. The goons will extort money from candidates, pull down posters, harass, intimidate and castigate opponents pretentiously, to settle political scores in a manner no less reminiscent of the single party days. In many cases, these student goons carry no serious political ideology beyond political mischief with detrimental results on the growth of an issue based student leadership.

Tribalism enjoys a supreme position in organization and execution of student elections. The governance of operations in the one year post election period which is the natural tenure of a student parliament is not spared. Campus student mobilization is rich in tribal rhetoric and shamefully deficient on ideologies. The voting blocs are superficially modeled along the prevailing national camps such as PNU/ODM or Jubilee / CORD  instead of the more ideological capitalist/socialist or at least liberal/conservative.

The theme of tribalism is no longer a pretense. It can determine whether one is elected into a position of student leadership or not. This tribal organization betrays an unfortunate bankruptcy of political originality in institutions of higher learning which ironically  boast of being the fountains of knowledge.

Election day on campus is far from a celebration of democracy as it ought to be. The process run by outgoing student leaders is vulnerable to manipulation and outright abuse. Incidences of manipulation have occurred with varying degrees of impunity through different generations. The SONU election results of 2007 were disputed by a majority of students who felt that the process was not free and fair.

Since then election fraud and attendant disputes at university elections has become pervasive.

This week, Moi University was closed following an old but familiar script of student election related violence continuing to hold up the red flag that something is seriously wrong with organization of student affairs in Kenyan universities.

The university administration will often feign ignorance and innocence yet it is implacably opposed to functional student affairs . It is not uncommon to find the administration supporting tribalism, violence, and electoral fraud associated with student elections both openly and covertly.

The management in our universities has more often than not acted in the interest of self preservation. Had these managers acted in the interest of the future kenya, they would have promoted progressive systems in the arena of student leadership. They would have introduced electronic voting using technologies innovated at the university that would have formed a model to be used in national elections.

The scourge of tribalism can be dealt a decisive blow if the virtues of nationalism are inculcated at university level. Kenyan high schools have been excellent in the promotion of patriotism among  students only for universities to demolish the good work.

Our dons must feel ashamed that they aid in building a destructive attitude of tribal loyalty in young Kenyan minds. The university is the final major station of character formation for the nations leaders. When our young leaders train in deceit and violence the nation will continue to carry the burden of bad leadership.

The university of Nairobi’s quality policy statement states in part that the institution is ‘committed to quality as the guiding principle to its decision making and leadership in the provision of university education and related services to its customers’. While the institution has done well in many areas, it has performed dismally on the matter of quality student leadership and the results are showing.

DR CHITAYI MURABULA

A medical doctor, trade unionist and writer. He is also a former student leader at the university of Nairobi.

Twitter: @Dr_chitayi

Facebook: Chitayi Murabula

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EXPERTISE, NOT POLITICS, WILL WIN THE WAR ON ALCOHOLISM

A recent crackdown on illegal brews inspired by a presidential directive has pushed Kenya towards the brink of a complex social and political crisis whose consequences will be legal, medical and economic.

Most Kenyans while agreeing with the assertion that the fight against illicit brews is long overdue, many doubt whether this should be executed by armed ‘militia-like’ gangs of men and women wielding machetes and other-crude weapons commanded by politicians as opposed to the nations constitutional security forces.

Even as we grapple with processes many are still asking whether requisite steps are being taken to address the underlying social deficiencies that got the nation here in the first place. Could it be that the centre of the Kenyan society can no longer hold? Could it be that we are losing our anchor?

Mr George Soros, Hungarian-born , American business magnate, investor and philanthropist in one of his most widely quoted publications states: “Unsure of what they stand for, people increasingly rely on money as the criterion of value. What is more expensive is considered better…People deserve respect and admiration because they are rich. What used to be a medium of exchange has usurped the place of fundamental values, reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory. What used to be professions have turned into businesses. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles. Society has lost its anchor…”

While sipping a little wine either for ‘ones stomach’, for ‘the road’ or to simply create oneself a slightly altered perception of reality is as old as the human race, the scourge of alcoholism which is itself a disease curiously coincides with the Kenyan political revolution of 2002 which ushered in a new era of unprecedented social and economic liberalism.

It appears like while we were in a hurry to throw out the ills of president Moi’s era , we made the error of throwing away the baby and the bathwater. The bathwater being the ills of the KANU epoch and the baby being the Nyayo philosophy of peace, love and unity.

While the 2002 kenyan political revolution was beneficial to the nation, the deliberate destruction of a philosophy of peace, love and unity (regardless of who was proposing it) exposed our nation to the dangers of weakened kinship ties, looser social cohesion and shaky  human solidarity.

The economic policy of wealth creation while creating the highest number of millionaires in the history of independent Kenya, has also left in its wake lost hopes and despair that Alex La Guma in the short story ‘out of darkness’ aptly calls, ‘the wreckage which mankind left behind in its onward march’.

The trouble with leaving so many behind is that soon we are forced to go back for them.

Our political leaders may have little time for socialist niceties given that a majority of them campaign using a socialist manifesto but govern using a capitalist manual.

However this is not just socialist niceties, its about digging deep to get the primary of a social cancer which may continue growing while we struggle with getting rid of the distant metastases.

Alcoholism itself as a disease is well defined by the authoritative American Psychiatric Association.In their latest publication that outlines the diagnositic criteria for mental illness , otherwise called the DSM V. The professional body categorises alcohol abuse and dependence as alcohol use disorder which itself falls under substance use disorder

One of the criteria that should be met before a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder is made, is the development of withdrawal after stopping use.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome that is usually characterized by tremors, seizures and hallucinations is both a medical and psychiatric emergency which if left untreated will proceed to coma and death in upto 25% of the patients. The syndrome develops about 48 hours after the last drink in a majority of patients.

While the legal aspects of having marauding gangs breaking into business premises are best left to lawyers, deaths from alcohol withdrawal illness is already a challenge to the presidential directive demonstrating the dangers of applying purely pragmatic , political solutions to a problem that stretches outside the realm of politics.

DR CHITAYI MURABULA

A medical doctor, trade unionist and writer.

twitter: @Dr_chitayi

facebook: Chitayi Murabuia