The dean of the faculty of law at the University of Nairobi has resigned following his arrest and detention for three hours at a police station for discussing political matters over a cup of tea with two colleagues in the university's senior common room.
The police action has sent shockwaves throughout the academic community in Kenya because many people thought the government had relaxed its surveillance of higher education institutions since the introduction of the multiparty system in 1992.
Fear now rules over all the universities. Academics prefer not to air their personal views on the economic and political events of the past four years. This is happening at a time when the world believes that Kenya is now an open society as a result of the re-introduction of multiparty politics in 1992.
The dean, Kivutha Kibwana, is one of the leading human rights lawyers in the country. The common room is used by senior fellows and high ranking university administrators. It is thought that some are informers for the state.
Professor Kibwana wrote an angry letter of resignation to his vice chancellor on August 2 saying: "My investigations have led me to discover that the university instigated my arrest . . . This fact shocked me. I feel abused, violated and betrayed.
"I cannot understand why the university can order my arrest for discussing in a public place matters with two youths of my own country. I had thought that the mandate of university teachers was to be available, even at short notice, to the youth of this country. We should also be available to enrich national dialogue and pave the way for national reconciliation and healing. If we do not attempt to accomplish these as a university, we shall become irrelevant and history will judge you and us very harshly. By instigating my arrest the university has clearly shown that it prefers me not to serve as a dean."
The two youths with whom Professor Kibwana was arrested have now been charged with tresspassing on university grounds. They are both graduates of Nairobi and Kenyatta University.
The incident happened on August 1 at Nairobi's main campus. Professor Kibwana was with other lecturers and friends when he discussed the talks between the largest tribe in Kenya, the Kikuyu and president Daniel arap Moi's own tribe, the Kalenjins, over a cup of tea in the senior common room. Little did he know that the omnipresent state security was eavesdropping.
University lecturers have few good things to say about the Moi government. Many think it is inept, corrupt and should not be in power; The common room discussion echoed these sentiments, but concentrated more on the failure of the opposition in Kenya to unite and remove Moi from power. The group discussed the structural weaknesses of the opposition in the country and the banning of non-governmental organisations critical of government policies such as the university centre of law and research which was banned early this year after producing the most detailed account of Government corruption.
The incident illustrates the icy relations between the government and the academic community. Over the past two weeks, students have been involved in running battles with police over the raising of university fees from about US$100 to about US$830 annually. The fees have been raised as part of the structural adjustments programme. The adjustments have been particularly painful for students who were being housed and fed free of charge, and even received a stipend of US$100 from the state just a year ago. But with declining revenues, the government has had to turn to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for help.
The two bodies offered to assist provided that the government reformed education.
The government had won a degree of popularity with the students through these stipends and President Moi was known to go for high noon tea with the students in the student cafeterias.
As soon as the fee increase announcement was made, the government first denied it, then kept silent before blaming the opposition, the World Bank and IMF for pressing for the fees hike.
Kenya has four public universities with about 40,000 students.
There has been a massive expansion of higher education which has not been matched by more facilities. The quality of degrees offered in these state universities is now openly questioned. Because of the overcrowding and inadequacy of resources, the government could only maintain order by pouring more and more money into the individual pockets of the students. The students were among the most well looked after group in the country until early this month.
The government adopted this tactic when it could not afford to buy chalk for the lecturers, who went on strike a year ago for more pay. The government continued to pay them during the ten-month strike.
It is estimated that the government lost more than Shl billion (Pounds 1.5 million) in salaries and emoluments paid for but not worked for. Since 1992, the government has dragged its feet on the issue of cost sharing until the aid agencies put their foot down. Riots broke out in every campus, prompting tear gas attacks by the security forces. Many students were injured, some seriously.