Moi orders probe into riots

December 17, 1999

NAIROBI

Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi has stepped into the controversy surrounding frequent student riots, describing them as being part of a "culture of mindless disorder" and ordering a "scientific probe" to discover their cause.

At graduation ceremonies at Moi and Nairobi universities last week, President Moi said Kenya had seen five "meaningless" riots in the previous month alone. The riots made the quality of Kenyan degrees "suspect" in the eyes of the outside world, he said.

"My thinking is that these acts of violence and irresponsiblity could be a reflection of bad politics and drug abuse in our society," he said.

President Moi ordered the establishment of a joint university commission, composed of psychology, criminology and sociology professionals, to "get to the bottom of the riots" and report within four months.

The university top brass seated on the podium behind President Moi were unlikely to disagree. They have been struggling to contain the protests, which have frequently degenerated into looting and violence. But just as pertinently, they all owe their jobs to President Moi.

The top administrators at Kenya's public universities - Moi, Kenyatta, Egerton, Nairobi and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology - are appointed, directly or indirectly, by the president, who is chancellor of all of them.

In addition, he has the deciding say in the choice of deputy vice-chancellors and any section principals.

The abolition of this system of political appointments is the "number one" priority for the Students Organisation of Nairobi University (Sonu), which was banned until last year.

Sonu chairman Karieri wa Karieri, said: "They are perceived to be sycophants and are politicising the academic institutions. These people should be appointed on merit by the teaching staff instead of through politics."

Nairobi University vice-chancellor Francis Gichaga is a "capable and rational" man, according to Mr Karieri, but his hands are tied.

"It follows that if the president gives you a favour, you'll have to protect his interests," he said.

Those occupying senior university posts have also gone on to political careers. Former Nairobi University vice-chancellors Philip Mbithi and Joseph Karanja went on to become head of the civil service and vice-president of the government respectively.

Francis Adoul, principal of the college of architecture and engineering, said the claim of government interference was exaggerated. He defended the appointments' system and said the cause of the student riots is chronic under-funding of public universities.

Public universities are attempting to scale down the loss-making provision of food and accommodation, according to one senior figure.

"We are trying to get out of student welfare, which we find really difficult. But the day we pull out of accommodation, then there will really be riots," he said.

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