When academics and admins lose their heads

So there was a strike at the University of Nairobi recently. A few stones were thrown, a few policemen caned (I hear some stole from students’ rooms), and a number of students lashed. A few buildings, including one prefab (sadly not all) went up in flames.

As a result, the university was closed indefinitely and students were kicked out. The day after, Club 36 (popular by the moniker ‘klabu’) was torched on the pretext (which I believe is true) that it was the marketplace for the drugs which were probably the fuel behind the whole fracas. But it was also a three-quarter decent eatery. So, yea, klabu went up in flames.

The next week, after much thought, the university published 62 names coupled with registration numbers in the newspaper, stating that the persons to whom they belonged had been suspended from the university for 1000 academic days, which is university-speak for three or so years. This list was mirrored on the university’s website, detailing even the students’ email addresses. The next day, yet another list emerged. It had more than double the names of the first, but the sentence was the same. Last week (or was it the week before) 32 of the names came up in the newspaper again, with their suspension sentences commuted and replaced by expulsion. As if whoever was publishing the names couldn’t make up his/her mind.

All this while I have been thinking; what kind of game is this? Why is the university operating like a kids club? Isn’t there any sane person in the senate anymore? Why the measuring of balls, the posturing and puerile ballyhooing? And that was just the beginning. I hadn’t seen this week yet.

On Tuesday, the university opened for the majority of students (5th year Medicine students reported last week, as I bet you already know) and then the real child-play began. They are re-registering everyone, as if they didn’t ask students to fill documents in triplicates when they joined the university, and as if they didn’t queue up to have passport photos taken for the student ID.

It is first day of first year all over again. Queues and thirst. Photocopies and walking across campus. And a lazy as sloth bureaucracy. Never mind that most of the students undergoing this are supposed to do their exams in a few weeks and go on holiday anyway. And some are leaving the university altogether after those same exams. It doesn’t make any sense, does it? How is that supposed to avert future strikes? Wait, there’s more.

They have changed the room door locks, as if that will stop the hostel from being burned (if that was the intention) and as if I didn’t wait for months last year for my broken door lock to be repaired. And they are seizing cooking coils, as if the custodian of every hostel doesn’t have twenty (together with an ample supply of sufurias and salt) in his/her own office, and as if the mess-halls offer half-decent meals. In case you are wondering, they aren’t telling anyone why they are doing this.

Which leads me to wonder. What kind of game is this? By all this, does the senate mean to avert all possibility of future riots? Or is this a ploy to strike some fear into students? For all it looks like, it’s stoking anger for yet another riot, rather than averting it.

At this rate, they will have to expel every student to keep the university free of riots. And even then, as long as the students they admit are human, and as long as the university remains the den of corruption, quagmire of intellectual malaise and CBD-based shanty that it is, you can never have the spectre of a riot out of sight.

The solution for the university’s perennial riots lies not in the intimidation of students who had nothing to do with what has happened during the strike (heck, many of them were actually victims rather than perpetrators), but rather in the elimination of the causes of the grievances that led those who rioted to do so in the first place.

Regimes that resort to the wanton stripping away freedoms at the slightest suggestion of dissent are hardly the world’s greatest sources of pride. A university that seeks to stop riots by denying students the ability to eat decent food (among other mundane things) has surely lost its purpose.

If this is how the university is going to be run from now on, by intimidation and fear, then I fear for the kind of graduates it is going to produce. This is my three-shillings’ worth. Over and out.

Feature image: Source unknown.

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