Inquiry blames poor living conditions forKenyan riots

January 12, 2001

An inquiry into violent student demonstrations and riots at Kenya's public universities has blamed the unrest on poor living conditions.

Committee chairman Everett Standa said: "In the past ten years, there have been 60 riots, of which 40 per cent are linked to food and accommodation."

Ineffective teaching, lack of tutorials, lecturer threats and "marks-for-sex" scandals are other internal factors that have plagued Kenyan universities. The learning environment is hampered by overcrowding in hostels and poor learning resources.

"This detestable learning and living environment has led to anxiety, stress, bitterness and hatred of the university," said Onesmus Gakuru, a sociologist at the University of Nairobi.

Economic conditions are to blame for the reduction of government funding of higher education in Kenya. The unit cost, about £1,000 per student, is not enough for the universities to subsidise students' living expenses. To cut costs, students usually cook in the crowded hostel rooms, resulting in frequent fires.

According to the report, about 12,000 female students were living in mock marriage arrangements to cut the cost of living. This situation only increases the chances of contracting Aids, says the report.

At the University of Nairobi, five to seven people die each month from Aids.

Use of drugs such as marijuana, heroine, cocaine and mandrax is alarmingly high and is a major cause of indiscipline. Students also brew and sell illicit alcoholic drinks in their rooms to make a bit of extra cash.

In the past three years, frequent political infiltration by outsiders seeking political support from poor students who are open to inducements has increased the number of riots and demonstrations.

Tribalism was identified as another aspect that was tearing Kenya's public universities apart. The committee blamed the government for a policy that demanded secondary schools admit 85 per cent of their students from their home districts. The policy has created an ethnic divide and negated the national goal of promoting national unity.

The report called for decentralisation of large campuses into smaller ones of 2,000 students each. The committee also called for a code of ethics to govern lecturers and reduce cases of sexual harassment and marks-for-sex practices that have often sparked riots and violent demonstrations.

Vice-chancellors were urged to improve the dialogue between student bodies and police. The committee also called on the government to relocate the slums that are next to the universities to reduce peddling of drugs and illicit alcohol.

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