Closure of varsity colleges deals blow to business and growth of many towns

Ambwere Furaha Plaza in Kakemega town where Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology is located. [Benajmin Sakwa, Standard]
Flashback 2008.  Yalla town in Siaya County was bubbling with excitement as  senior  officials from Moi University toured the newly-established Odera Akango satellite learning centre.

Named after famous paramount Chief Odera Akang’o, credited with the growth of education in Gem, the centre was quickly transformed into a university campus, amid excitement that it will trigger a flood of business opportunities and socioeconomic development.

As students streamed into the college, which was formerly a private secondary school, business around it grew. Investors turned former shops and residential houses into student hostels. New buildings came up to satisfy the growing demand of both the students, lecturers and non-teaching staff.

Food kiosks, shops and salons sprung up. Yala Town had changed face and motorists driving on the Kisumu-Busia highway stopped to admire the transformation. Renown historian and then Moi University Chancellor Prof Bethwell Ogot who fought for the establishment of the campus, which sits barely 5km from his home, was a happy man.

But 11 years later, today, dreams and hopes that came with the Moi University campus are crumbling.  The campus that sits in a vast compound is nothing but a shell. Learning stopped last year when all the students were transferred back to main campus in Eldoret following a controversy over land which had been earmarked for its expansion.

Local leaders are bitter that even after they pushed the Government to allocate 50 acres belonging to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation at Nyamninia to the campus, the Moi University administration still went ahead to close it down.

Although University officials and area MP Elisha Odhiambo insist the campus was not completely closed, locals said no activity is going on as all the students had been moved.

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Former Member of the Siaya County Assembly Jared  Abayo sid the closure of  the college has hit Yala like a bombshell.

“Our hopes are dashed. The growth we anticipated in Yala has suddenly slowed down because  a university is a big stimulus  for economic  growth in towns. Look at towns where universities  are located. There are booming,” said  Abayo.

His shop

A shopkeeper, Maxwel Okoth, told The Standard that he had expanded his shop to include a cybercafé and a salon with the students as his target customers but he has since shut them down.

The college Principal Prof Phillip Nyangweso confirmed that no learning was going at the Odera Akang’o campus but said discussions were still going on over its future.

“Students were transferred to the main campus in Eldoret, but local leaders are making efforts to address the issues that led to the transfer of the students. I prefer that you speak to area MP,”  Prof Nyangweso said.

Problems facing the college started last year after Moi University made a decision to transfer the students to the main campus.

In a memo dated June, 28, 2018 from Vice Chancellor Prof  Isaac Kosgey, the students from Odera Akango and Kitale campus were required to relocate to the main campus and Eldoret West campus within a week.

In the Memo, the VC said the move had been occasioned by lack of teaching due to non-payment of lecturers.

But even though leaders were fighting to have the college re-opened and new students admitted, the new order that universities be merged could deal a blow to the college.

“With the new  order issued by Education Prof  George Magoha that smaller colleges and satellite campuses be merged, our institution will die a natural death,” said a Yala resident, Sam Okowa.

In Homa Bay, the business  community who have invested heavily in service provision and houses since the opening of the Tom Mboya University College have appealed to Education CS  to spare the institution when a proposed merger of universities starts.

They said attempts to merge the college with any other will slow down the town’s development.

Tom Mboya University College, a constituent of  Maseno University, is the only university college in Homa Bay County. It became operational in 2016.

At Uni-View hotel opposite the university gate we meet the hotel proprietor Caroline Osogo.

The hotel can accommodate more than 200 customers who can be served at a go.

Like other business proprietors in the area, Caroline’s business heavily depends on the community of Tom Mboya University College.

Homa Bay County Bunge La Wenye Nchi head Walter Opiyo said the university college is a reason to smile for many landlords in the town.

“Constructing a house in Homa Bay town used to have no value due to lack of tenants. Today, a rental house in Homa Bay has high demand because of the population increased by the university,” said Opiyo.

He said landlords had increased the rate of rent due to the high demand for rental houses in the town.

For instance, a house whose rent used to be Sh3,000 can now go for either Sh4,000 or Sh5,000.

In Kakamega, locals interviewed said people who took loans from banks to put up hostels in Kakamega town for example will be the worst hit should a proposed merger of universities happen.

“We are already facing challenges due to reduced number of students seeking accommodation after the Government did away with parallel courses in our universities, we are afraid the merger will make matters worse,” said Humphrey Kuboga, a hostel owner.

According to Kuboga, the university remains the only ‘industry’ that has provided jobs and created business opportunities to the locals.

“We urge the Government to think twice about the idea to merge the universities, such a move will subject many people to unwarranted sufferings,” said Kuboga.

Equally worried are owners of food kiosks and greens vendors who fear losing business.

“Students, lecturers and workers are our clients but the ongoing arrangements could affect their stay here and by extension our businesses,” said Roselyne Ayako, a food kiosk owner.

 [John Oywa, Olivia Odhiambo and John Shilitsa]

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