By Wachira Kigotho
Kenya: A survey has ranked students from the University of Nairobi ahead of their counterparts in most African countries in the fight for more democratic space.
According to studies conducted by the Cape Town-based Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET), a think-tank that investigates the relationships between higher education and development in Africa, most students at the University of Nairobi have been participating more in the fight for democracy than their peers and counterparts in South African and Tanzanian universities.
After analysing data on social and political attitudes from the independent Afrobarometer, a project that examines social, political and economic atmosphere in Africa, researchers at CHET found that Nairobi students are also the most critical of their Government.
“About 86 per cent of Nairobi students consider Kenya as not a full democratic state,” says Dr Thierry Luescher-Mamashela, a lead researcher at CHET.
Less than 15 per cent of Nairobi students think that Kenya is a full democracy as compared to 34 per cent of students at the University of Dar-es-Salaam who consider their country to be a full democracy.
“Forty-eight per cent of students at the University of Cape Town deem South Africa as a full democratic country,” says Luescher-Mamashela.
Nonetheless, in the three leading universities in their respective countries, students are more critical of the extent of democracy in home countries than their peers without higher education and the general public.
“While 43 per cent of the public consider their country as a full democracy with minor problems, only less than 15 per cent of the students of the University of Nairobi do,” says Luescher-Mamashela.
This contrasts sharply with the situation in Tanzania and the South Africa where 74 per cent and 58 per cent of the public respectively think of their countries as full fledged democracies. The low rating of democracy in Kenya by the students and the general public could be linked to successive fractious general elections.
The study further observes that students in the two East African universities have always questioned how public affairs in their countries are run. According to the study, 87 per cent of students in the University of Nairobi and 70 per cent of their peers at the University of Dar-es-Salaam are not satisfied with the way their governments work.
“At the University of Cape Town, majority of students are fairly satisfied with the way their government go about public affairs,” says Luescher-Mamashela.
According to the report, 57 per cent of students at Cape Town University, have faith in their government’s democratic processes.
In terms of political radicalisation, students at the University of Nairobi uphold views of regime change, while those at the University of Dar-es-Salaam offer room for reform and deepening of democracy.
According to the study, 61 per cent of the students at the University of Nairobi consider themselves as transformative democrats as compared to 47 per cent at the University of Dar-es-salaam and 40 per cent at the University of Cape Town.
The study recorded the highest level of complacency at the University of Cape Town.
Even then, researchers found that students in the three universities were more likely to be critical or impatient transformative democrats than the general populace and their age mates without higher education. Interestingly, the study revealed the Kenyan society is more politicised than either Tanzania or South Africa.
It also emerged that 78 per cent of Kenyan university students discuss politics on a regular basis with their friends and family compared to 75 per cent in Tanzania and 63 per cent in South Africa.
It also emerged that there is a higher use of Internet and other digital media by students in the three to access political and public information.
“Nairobi students use radio as frequently as the television or the Internet which stands at 86 per cent,” says the study.
However, 93 per cent of students at Dar-es-Salaam frequently use radio and 92 per cent television on a daily basis while the number of those at Cape Town who use the same media on a daily basis stood 86 per cent.
Students at the University of Nairobi were found to be more knowledgeable about political incumbents than their peers in Dar-es-Salaam or Cape Town. The research was not conclusive as to whether students are really committed democrats or are merely critical citizens.