Students die in Kenya riots

July 18, 1997

THE University of Nairobi has closed indefinitely after 14 people, four of them students, died in clashes between the police and opposition pro-reform activists.

A university spokesman said paramilitary units stormed seminar rooms at the faculty of architecture, design and development and shot two students who were sitting end of semester examinations. Many others were injured including Robert Rukwaro, a professor who was supervising the examination.

Students and lecturers said 50 anti-riot paramilitaries entered the university after dispersing activists at the nearby Central Park. After shooting the students, the riot police beat Professor Rukwaro, who protested at the invasion, with rifle-butts and clubs. He sustained fractured limbs, internal injuries and is in hospital in a critical condition.

Another lecturer, Joseph Kamenju, was also beaten and admitted to another hospital where ten students from the faculty are undergoing treatment.

A student was run over by a lorry outside the College of Education and External Studies when police were dispersing students who had joined pro-reform activists in the area. Another was also shot at Thika, 25 miles from Nairobi, as police fired into a crowd at a pro-reform meeting.

Francis Gichaga, Nairobi's vice chancellor, appealed to students to remain calm until the government and the university investigated the shooting.

But after the shootings, students tried to march to State House where President Daniel Arap Moi was chairing a regional development summit. They also wanted to march to police headquarters to demand why police shot innocent students. However, they were blocked by anti-riot personnel.

Heavily armed police and paramilitary units put the university under siege, stopping students from leaving.

Tear-gas canisters were lobbed at students meeting in the central court of the main campus.

A university senate subcommittee decided to close the university indefinitely.

Professor Gichaga said: "Since students have defied orders to remain calm, the university feels academic programmes cannot be run smoothly and the senate has decided to close the university until further notice."

Students were given two hours to move out of university hostels.

Opposition MPs criticised the invasion of the lecture theatres and condemned the police attack on clergy and other people at the Anglican All Saints cathedral.

Thirty opposition MPs have vowed to block legislation that will make fundamental changes to universities and was an initial cause of student riots.

Sources at the ministry of education said the government wants to harmonise the entire tertiary education system through the Commission for Higher Education.

Universities would be able to expel students who have not paid their fees and the commission would be given control over admission, planning, budgeting and financing of all state universities. The legislation will also reduce the influence of vice chancellors.

Students from two universities fought running battles with the police earlier this month against the proposed bill. Three thousand students from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology sparked off the riots when they marched from their campus and burned down a district office of the ruling Kenya African National Union. They also set shops on fire and overturned vehicles.

The following day, 4,000 students from the University of Nairobi also rioted, barricading roads and burning tyres as they battled with riot police. Looting of stores also occurred.

In a bid to prevent further outbreaks of violence, education minister Joseph Kamotho said students will not be denied education because they are unable to pay tuition fees. The government said it will allocate one billion shillings (Pounds 556,450) towards loans.

"Universities have been directed to give bursaries to students from poor families," Mr Kamotho said.

The government has shown no intention of withdrawing the bill, to be tabled shortly before the election expected this year. It will allow universities to bar defaulters from taking examinations, and withhold their certificates.

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