Influential Meru leaders are pushing for the appointment of a vice chancellor from outside Mt Kenya region to insulate the Meru University of Science and Technology from local politics.
President Uhuru Kenyatta reappointed Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi as the university chancellor last week, triggering what sources in Meru say is intense lobbying for the VC position.
Meru leaders have been supportive about Dr Mwangi getting a renewed term, believing that he has impeccable fundraising skills.
But many are said to be uncomfortable with a local getting the VC position, fearing the institution would plunge back into undercurrents of intra-community competition, interests and tensions between the elites from Tigania and Imenti sub-groups.
The university is a victim of its own setting on the border of the two Meru subtribes in a locality that was once proposed as headquarters of Meru County.
Jostling between the sub-tribes who see the institution as their own is believed to have hastened the fall of Prof Japheth Magambo, the first vice chancellor. Also blamed was his administration’s rigidity and inability to connect with students and the host community.
The university council chaired by Prof Guracha Galgalo has narrowed down its choice of VC to three people, including Prof Charity Gichuki, previously the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) in charge of Finance and Administration.
Prof Gichuki has been acting VC following the ouster of Prof Magambo after recurrent student riots that culminated in the death of student union secretary general Evans Njoroge in February.
The list of three sent to Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed also has the DVC in charge of Academic Affairs, Prof Gitonga Mburugu, and Prof Romanus Odhiambo, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) DVC in charge of Academics.
Former adviser to the Presidency on education Kilemi Mwiria suggested that local elites were rooting for an outsider to take the leadership role, saying local leaders would support any Kenyan to steer the institution.
“Let us even have a VC from outside Meru if that is the one who will govern the institution for the best results,” said Dr Mwiria.
The university suffered immensely under the sub-tribal undercurrents under the last VC appointed after a charter was awarded early in 2013, badly denting Prof Magambo’s tenure.
A study commissioned by the chancellor found a long history of inter-communal suspicions, tension and grievances involving the various factions of the Meru community.
The study concluded that dual role of institution as both a "public university" and a "people’s university" exposed it to the tidal swings of politics of the various Meru sub-groups.
"We recommend that the university should always remain sensitive to the diversity and fault lines in the Meru community," reads the report.
During the study led by Prof Peter Kagwanja of the African Policy Institute, the management accused a local leader of inciting and partly underwriting student strikes and produced a confidential report by the Meru DCIO showing M-Pesa messages to a particular student leader and a guard at the university.
The Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders in June also suggested the VC be from outside Meru to insulate the university from local sub group politics.
Meru University Students’ Council Chairman Wangila Wabomba said the student fraternity hope Education CS Amina Mohamed would pick someone who will not oppress the students and staff.