Year-long lecturers' strike reaches final impasse

November 4, 1994

Professors at the University of Nairobi are continuing a lecturers' strike that has now paralysed academic programmes there for nearly a year.

When the university re-opened its door to 2,700 first-year students for the 1994/95 academic year, nothing seemed to have changed since November 29 last year. The lecturers who were present demanded to hold a meeting with officials of the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) before lectures could resume.

They also asked the university to reinstate unconditionally five sacked officials of UASU, including interim chairman, Korwa Adar and the union's secretary general of Nairobi Chapter, Omari Onyango. Others whom lecturers wanted to be given back their jobs are Churchill Kibisu, Charles Namachanja and Eric Mokokha, all senior officials of UASU.

Vice chancellor Francis Gichage told lecturers that they would not be allowed to hold union meetings in the university and could only meet if they agreed to denounce UASU.

Plain-clothes police, backed by university security guards, were deployed on all campuses to deter lecturers from holding meetings.

They asked Dr Adar to leave the university grounds, as he was no longer a lecturer since he had rejected the university's offer of reinstatement in the department of government.

However, Dr Adar denied that he had been given his job back as a senior lecturer since he was sacked by the university council in December last year.

Dr Adar said the talks between the two parties had broken down when the university lawyers failed twice to come to a meeting to thrash the issues besetting the university with UASU lawyers.

Professor Gichaha told a press conference that all 1,500 lecturers had agreed to resume teaching. However the lecturers said they would continue the strike until their demands were met by the university and the government.

The lecturers want UASU to be registered as a trade union, a demand that has been rejected publicly by President Daniel Arap Moi. He regards UASU as a splinter group of the opposition parties. He has also accused the lecturers of being funded from outside to derail his government.

Professor Gichaga and other vice chancellors of the public universities know all too well what the repercussions would be if they were to sympathise with the striking lecturers.

But in senate there is general consensus that the strike has run for too long. Many members would like to see academic programmes back on track. At least, they would like to see urgent implementation of the World Bank-supported universities' investment project which is expected to improve the standards in Kenya's public universities.

According to Stephen O'Brien, the World Bank's head of Eastern African region mission, the public universities in Kenya are yet to make extensive use of $55 million dollars of credit for the project. Dr O'Brien said very little of this money has been used.

The government may not back down and register the union. It already has its hands full trying to diffuse the on-going doctors' strike, and many think that it might be premature for the government to discuss how to end the lecturers' strike.

President Moi's conviction that the lecturers' strike is politically motivated seems to have deterred those who would have like to resolve the impasse.

The strike has forced many qualified and experienced lecturers to join the brain drain. A number of senior professors have gone to South Africa where they are being paid higher salaries than they would ever earn in Kenya.

They include Godfrey Muriuki, a historian and author trained at the London School of Oriental and African Studies and L. P. Muriithi, the only surviving senior academic at the department of economics.

Recruitment teams from South Africa had been pursuing lecturers with lucrative job offers, while other lecturers are joining private universities in Kenya. Younger scholars on scholarships abroad are choosing not to come back to their posts in Kenyan universities.

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