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It’s game of thrones in UoN’s vice-chancellor succession plot

Friday January 24 2020

UON Stephen Kiama

Prof Stephen Kiama. He is engaged in a war with the Education ministry over the University of Nairobi vice-chancellor position. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GABRIEL OGUDA
By GABRIEL OGUDA
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The University of Nairobi (UoN) prides itself as the premier institution of higher learning in Kenya.

But from the events this past week, the only premier league they are left to play in is that of shameful embarrassment and exchange of words.

What started as a procedural attempt at hiring a new vice-chancellor has now degenerated into a comical game of thrones.

If the UoN has a School of Performing Arts, this high-octane drama should be converted into a box office movie, because we all know it will end in tears.

We have always suspected that our public institutions of higher learning have been infiltrated by officials who have fallen short of the glory of leadership, but we never imagined the situation would be this bad.

We have been accusing locusts of denying us peace, only to realise the actual spray should be directed at university professors.

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For a long time, we have held the firm belief that professors are the cream of the thinking crop, full of intellectual charisma and timeless wisdom.

A NEW LOW

But from what we have seen this past week, you would be forgiven for thinking that public universities have been converted into political parties.

We are used to Members of Parliament hogging prime time news selling threats and hot air, but we never thought we would see university professors having a go at each other, against the spirit of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

If they wanted to oppose the BBI, there are 99 ways to go about it. But exchanging words in public isn’t one of them.

When it comes to behaving badly, we have always ranked our politicians top of the list; when they are not shooting people at their places of work, they are hiding in bushes whenever they see the light.

But to see university professors firing one another is not only a new low for the bar of leadership but also a new high for those drunk with power.

Times like this make you think deeply about the sorry state of academia in Kenya.

TOTAL HYPOCRISY

While professors in other countries are busy in research laboratories fighting over who will be the first to discover the cancer vaccine, here in Kenya professors are killing each other over a new chair and old door locks.

You spend half your life sweating in and out of classrooms for a professorship title hoping to be vice-chancellor one day, only to realise that all you needed was a sense of personal pride and a master key to access your new office.

There is no honour in burning a reputation you have diligently built for decades for a new job that is dependent on the goodwill of others.

If there is something we have learnt from the desert locusts currently giving us trouble up north, is that you will outlive those who cause you misery, if only you do not respond to every press conference calling for your elimination.

These are the same people who advise Kenyan youth to be innovative while discouraging them from being dependent on formal employment.

Yet they cling to public offices so tightly they qualify to be brand ambassadors for the new and improved super glue.

We live in a country where public office holders aren’t accountable for their words.

APPLY PRUDENCE

There should be a law saying that those who cannot practise what they preach should not be entrusted with public office and gym membership.

Every graduation day, professors wear colourful gowns while giving young scholars the powers to read, but what is the use of giving others the powers to read when you can’t read the mood regarding your appointment?

You’re giving people powers that you have failed to exercise and you wonder why most Kenyan homes don’t even have libraries?

We appreciate that January is traditionally a long month full of empty pockets — and fuel tanks — and everyone would fight to save their jobs whatever it takes.

However, no amount of pennilessness should drive a man into losing his head over a public office, because when Kenyans need that head to make difficult decisions it will not be there.

We know times are tough and money is scarce, but putting new locks on an old office door does nothing to legitimise the brazen display of hunger for power.

If anything, it just goes to show that university professors are not immune to vandalism and abuse of office doors.

PUBLIC CONFIDENCE

It is a coincidence that the current Cabinet secretary for Education happens to be a former UoN vice-chancellor himself.

No one understands the politics at the UoN better. And if there was one person who should have been on top of things regarding this issue, it should have been him.

The government should never have allowed the leadership wrangles at the University of Nairobi to get to where they are right now.

If the government cannot exercise control over a six-member university council, how confident are we that it can control locusts who don’t speak our language and move around in swarms?

Mr Oguda comments on topical issues; [email protected]

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