Traffic death sparks student riots

October 29, 1999

Kenyatta University has closed following student riots that led to the death of a police officer and scores of injured students and police, writes Wachira Kigotho.

The students also set ten vehicles on fire and blocked a major highway before paramilitary units were called in to reinforce the regular police.

Vice-chancellor George Eshiwani announced the closure after a crisis senate meeting.

The riots were sparked by the death of a fourth-year BEd student in a traffic accident on her way to university on October 23.

Following the tragedy, students gathered for prayers in the campus chapel and later marched to the highway, stoned motorists, lit bonfires and set up barricades in the middle of the road.

As more than 5,000 students held running battles with the police, Professor Eshiwani pleaded with student leaders to end the protest. Rampaging students threw passengers from several minibuses before torching the vehicles.

Professor Eshiwani said the senate did its best to avert the crisis, but had no alternative but to close the university to avoid destruction of property.

"We had to ensure that traffic on the freeway was not hampered by reckless people and to ensure that there is no further loss of life either on the part of our students, or other persons," the senate's order to close the university said.

However, Kenyatta University was the second public university in Kenya to be closed in a week as a result of student unrest. Moi University in Eldoret was shut on October 19 when students rioted demanding the scrapping of new part-time degree programmes.

Moi University students were angered that students were being admitted to study medicine, engineering and law with borderline minimum entry qualifications.

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