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Varsity students live on the edge as suspensions hover

Friday August 09 2019
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Maxwell Magawi (left) and Ronney Otieno, during an interview in Nairobi on July 24, 2019, speak about their frustrations after being suspended from university. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By OUMA WANZALA

When Maxwell Odhiambo Magawi, a student at the University of Nairobi, was expelled in 2016 following the disputed students union elections, he had no idea what it would take for him to return to the institution to complete his studies.

Magawi, now a final year law student, says he was kept in the dark by the university management regarding his future and had to move to the High Court to secure readmission after several months.

His story mirrors the plight of scores of students across the country who have been expelled or suspended from universities, with the institutions taking ages to conclude disciplinary hearings.

Some of the students have been out for three years and are not sure when they will be back to complete their studies.

For those who can afford it, High Court intervention has been their only recourse, but those with no money have left their fates in the hands of their respective institutions.

Most of the expelled or suspended students find it hard to return home to face their parents, hence they end up whiling away their time in the institutions’ neighbourhoods, doing odd jobs to make ends meet.

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COURT INTERVENTION

Some have turned to drug use while others have become goons who are hired by the political class.

Such students are also kicked out of university hostels and banned from accessing university premises, including students’ centres.

Magawi admits that it was tough dealing with a university administration that was so determined to destroy his education and future career.

He says he was expelled in 2016 while in second year, but managed to get back to the institution in 2017.

After his return, he was once again suspended only five months later, while in third year.

However, he managed to get back to the university once again after seeking another court intervention, he is currently in fourth year and hopes to complete his law studies.

FRUSTRATIONS

Magawi admits that being suspended from the university and staying out for years is a humbling experience.

“When you go back to university, there is a lot of resistance, especially from the management and lecturers. They always frustrate you in order to see how you react,” he says, adding that getting transcripts for past units is always difficult as one is taken around in circles.

Ronny Otieno, also a University of Nairobi student, says once suspended, a student is always kept in the dark, not knowing when he or she will be recalled.

“Whenever you appear before the disciplinary committee, you are always found guilty. No one gives you a fair hearing,” says Otieno.

He says it can take a year before the university rules on one’s suspension. And if one is readmitted, he is required to report back with a certificate of good conduct from the police.

“Being kept in darkness for a year, not knowing what will happen, is very discouraging because you are disturbed mentally,” he says.

He says many of his colleagues serving suspension or those who have been expelled usually decide to hang around Nairobi due to stigmatisation back home, because they are considered failures by the community.

PARDON

Byrone Mirodho, a Bachelor of Education student at Kikuyu campus, University of Nairobi, was suspended in 2017 only for the suspension to be lifted a few months later but with tough conditions.

Mirodho was ordered to pay Sh86,000 for the damage he had caused. To date, he is yet to raise the fine, therefore remaining locked out of the university.

Magawi is asking acting Vice Chancellor Isaac Mbeche to pardon all students who were expelled or suspended and for them to be compensated.

“The new university management needs to bring harmony with the student community. To be suspended for three years while paying rent in Nairobi without a job is not easy,” says Magawi, adding that those who are out should be given a second chance.

A law student at the University of Nairobi who asked not to be identified, complained that suspensions and expulsions were routinely used by university administrations to silence dissent.

“We have cases where basic university facilities like toilets and clinics are in pathetic state but no one can dare raise the issue. The moment you do so, you become a marked man and your days in the institution become numbered,” says the student.

For instance in 2016, the University of Nairobi expelled 33 students following violent protests over disputed union elections.

FAIR HEARING

Among those expelled was Mike Jacobs, who had contested against incumbent Babu Owino for the post of chairman of the Student Organisation of Nairobi University (Sonu).

At the time, 33 students were expelled, 25 suspended and 17 pardoned. In addition, 143 students were reprimanded.

Before his exit as vice chancellor, Peter Mbithi had indicated that students who were expelled or suspended and are remorseful will be pardoned.

Onjira John Anyul was suspended on May 18, 2016 but he decided to move to the High Court to challenge the decision.

By the time of his expulsion, Anyul was a medical student. He was an aspirant for the position of Campus Representative, College of Health Sciences, in the Sonu elections held on April 2016.

In his judgment, Justice George Odunga ruled that the University of Nairobi did not accord the student a fair trial during the disciplinary proceedings leading to his expulsion.

He ruled that whereas universities have a responsibility to discipline errant students, this should be done within the rules and regulations of the university and in line with the Constitution.

RIOTS

This year, the management of Kenyatta University was forced to enter into an out-of-court settlement with several students after they were charged in a Kiambu court for destroying the institution’s property during a strike last year.

The university pardoned seven of the students who had been linked to the riots at its main campus in November last year, which left property worth Sh95 million destroyed.

David Kebaso Morara, a law student who unsuccessfully vied for the Kenyatta University Students’ Association (Kusa) presidency, George Nyamwea, Eric Masila, David Amisi, Trevar Agoi, Dominic Ochieng and Victor Nangacho denied the charges before Kiambu Senior Principal Magistrate Stella Atambo.

The accused had been expelled from the university but are now back to continue with their studies. The university management said the students were forgiven on humanitarian grounds.

At Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, former student leader David Kemboi Kipkosgei is still at home following his suspension in 2017.

Koskegei, who was the secretary-general of the student union, together with 10 other students were suspended by the university for their involvement in demonstrations at the university’s main campus.

He had been accused of inciting students, convening illegal meetings and leading student demonstrations, disrupting learning at the institution, all in contravention of university rules and regulations.

“I hope justice will be done so that I can complete my studies and graduate,” says Koskegei, who was a journalism and mass communication student.

ENDING DISSENT

At Maasai Mara University, former student leader Fikirini Jacobs was among five student leaders expelled by the management.

Jacobs described the disciplinary process in a blog post as a sham, claiming the university’s disciplinary committee took less than two minutes to rule on his case.

“Are two minutes enough to have accusations read, defence, cross-examination and conclusion plus verdict made to suspend and expel?

"See how the hell is, my brothers are currently desperate of university education not because they were found to be NYS looters, not because they were found to be Afya House looters, not because they were found to be sugar cartels, not because they were found to be anything that ails this country… but simply because they were fighting to win over designed suffocation of comrades.

"Just because they stood to fight for social democracy, they are homing!!!!! When it’s almost becoming a history,” Jacobs wrote in a blog.

He later joined Pwani University where he was once again elected a student leader in April this year.

Following his election as chairman of the Kenya University Students Organizationin June this year, Jacobs promised to address the issue of suspension and expulsion of students in universities.

SHOT DEAD

Masinde Muliro University students’ organisation leader Simiyu Lumala admits that rules guiding the suspension and expulsion of students have to be reviewed as they are being abused.

In 2016, three Technical University of Kenya students who led their colleagues in boycotting classes over accreditation of their engineering courses programme were summoned to appear before the institution’s disciplinary committee.

Felix Anjimbi, Stephen Omondi and Paul Nyang’wara were later suspended but the suspension was lifted.

They had led more than 500 students to protest non-accreditation of their engineering course.

This year, Samuel Ragira, who had been enrolled in 2009 but was expelled in 2015 due to indiscipline, was shot dead by unknown people at Klabu 36 market near the University of Nairobi hostels on Mamlaka Road.

This is where most of the suspended or expelled students from University of Nairobi spend most of their time.

Some of the suspended or expelled students have also turned the heat on former student leaders, whom they say have done little to help them despite being the main cause of their problems.

BABU'S EFFORTS

However, former Sonu leader and Embakasi East MP Babu Owino says he is doing everything possible to have several students who were expelled readmitted.

Owino says he has taken the matter to Parliament and soon the students will be readmitted to the universities unconditionally.

"Universities must never be run like kiosks,” says Owino, insisting that education is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Constitution.

Vice Chancellor Mbeche says cases of students facing disciplinary actions will be cleared.

However, he was cagey with the information on those who were suspended or expelled, insisting that they are less than 10, a figure many of the affected students dispute, saying they are in the hundreds.

“Respective principals of colleges are handling the cases and have assured those affected that their issues will be sorted out soon,” Mbeche said.

Most of the student leaders at the university were expelled or suspended during Prof Mbithi's time.

A former Sirisia parliamentary aspirant Moses Nandwale, who was expelled from Kenyatta University in 2009 after he opposed some of the policies that had been introduced by the management, says students leaders need more support.

POLITICS

He says the university students union then had been turned into a puppet of the management.

He had to complete his studies at Dar Salaam University after a number of politicians came to his aid.

He says he was lucky to have received such support, unlike today when many students who are expelled are abandoned by politicians.

“When students from poor families are expelled, life stops since most of them fear going back home. Parents view them as failures and an embarrassment,” says Nandwale.

Vanice Murabwe says she was kicked out of Kenyatta University in 2009 and coming back was tough.

“When you come back the system does not know you and it takes you a year to settle down. The university is not ready to give you transcripts for past units as they want to frustrate you,” she adds.

She says she had to change to the privately-sponsored students programme and graduated after two years.

Ndege Serkal was a student at UoN and was suspended in 2014 but came back and graduated in 2016. He says staying out of university is a traumatising experience.

He regretted that most of the students are suspended or expelled on political grounds especially whenever there are disputes over elections.

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