Dennis Munene’s untimely death as shocking as it is, is only one in a recent spate of killings involving young university students.
Soured relationships have been a common thread in many of these deaths but so have been villainous police officers and common criminality, including attacks by gangsters. However, there is still a large number of cases that are yet to be explained and have simply been filed in police records as “ death under mysterious circumstances”.
One of the more recent cases involving love gone sour among young people was the case of Edmond Ruto of Egerton University in Nakuru. Ruto stabbed his girlfriend to death before attempting suicide in February. During investigations, it emerged that his girlfriend, Ms Cynthia Chelagat, had repeatedly complained to her friends that her relationship with Ruto was troubled. Her landlord said there had been frequent scuffles between the two.
In March, Meru University student leader Evans Njoroge was shot dead by a police officer moments after leading a demonstration to protest against exorbitant tuition fees.
Other deaths have not been easy to explain. Munene’s for example, has left investigators stumped as to how a student at the University of Nairobi could be found dead on a beach in Mombasa, nearly 500km away. And on and on it goes.
But to Mr George Musamali, a security expert, the fact that university students are increasingly becoming victims or perpetrators of murder is hardly surprising, given the environment that many of them are studying in.
“University hostels have become dens of crime where anything goes. Selling of drugs, prostitution and organised theft is rife within university walls and it is time the authorities acknowledged this reality,” he said.
According to him, university students are easy targets for criminals and are themselves vulnerable to crime.
“Most students especially in public universities come from poor backgrounds. Opportunities for paid part time work are rare and out of their reach. Financial frustration might therefore push them into a life of crime since they see that as a quick fix for their money worries,” said Musamali.
These dynamics might not only push them to committing crime, but may also make them more likely to be victims of lawlessness due to their proximity to those involved in criminal behaviour.
Research shows that those aged between 14 and 25 are most likely to commit crime since there is a perceived low risk because they feel they have little to lose if caught.
“After age 25 we see a steep drop in criminal activity as people take-on new roles such as wage-earner, parent, spouse etc. The possibility of jail time becomes a relatively more serious matter because of the impact it will have on the perpetrators life and responsibilities,” said a study that looked at patterns of crime in United Kingdom.
In the book, A Primer on Social Problems, sociologist Steven Barkan also explains why crime is high among the 15 to 24 age group. He gives three reasons:
“Peer relationships matter more during this time of one’s life than later and peers are also more likely during this period than later to be offenders themselves. For both reasons, our peer relationships during our teens and early twenties are more likely than those in our later years to draw us into crime.
“Second, adolescents and young adults are more likely than older adults to lack full-time jobs; for this reason, they are more likely to need money and thus to commit offences to obtain money and other possessions.
“Third, as we age out of our early 20s, our ties to conventional society increase: Many people marry, have children, and begin full-time employment, though not necessarily in that order,” he said.
Mr Musamali agrees, adding that teenage years and young adulthood are periods of experimentation and adventure where most people are likely to engage in risky behaviour before they settle into the humdrum life of respectability that comes with responsibilities such as marriage, children or work.
“University students fall in this category. They are risk takers and want to live life in the fast lane before real adulthood slows them down. They are therefore more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour,” he said.
He says that a good way of curbing this impulsivity in this age group is by curtailing some of their freedoms.
“Inasmuch as university students are adults, we should understand that many of them are still in their parents’ care and are not fully independent. Universities therefore need to put in place stricter security policies, such as restricted movements after certain hours to protect students,” he said.