Kibaki put varsities on the highway to failure

Former President Mwai Kibaki during the opening of a library at Makerere University, Uganda. [Standard]
Former President Mwai Kibaki, he of pumbavu and mavi ya kuku expletives, will be remembered for many things. He was a genius, an economist who pulled Kenya out of economic doldrums.

He simply dazzled when it came to road infrastructure, best showcased in the multi-lane Thika Superhighway and bypasses that have eased transport in Nairobi.

That said, allow me to rest my accolades, for Mr Kibaki hardly shone bright on other fronts. He performed cheerlessly on corruption in spite of the euphoric groundswell in the wake of 2002 elections. An academic of no mean stature, Kibaki’s hand on education did not quite inspire. A total mischance, I dare say.

Let me explain. Take free primary school education that he actualised to much fanfare, for instance. Noble no doubt, but bungled in the conveyor belt of poor planning, inadequate teaching staff, and a dearth of learning facilities including classrooms. Public primary schools suddenly saw their performance deteriorate in the jumble of unprecedented influx of pupils. It was not long before parents with a penny to spare turned to better equipped private schools. The free primary education experiment was instantly a fiasco.

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But it was at university level that Kibaki literally dispatched Kenya’s once gallant education sector to the gallows by issuing charters to all manner of colleges to become fully-fledged universities. Note that President Moi, after 24 years in power, left behind Nairobi, Kenyatta, Egerton, Moi, JKUAT and Maseno universities.

The six had mutated to a record 21 at Kibaki’s departure a decade later. He chartered Chuka, Dedan Kimathi, Karatina, Kisii, Masinde Muliro, Eldoret, Laikipia, South Eastern Kenya University, Kabianga, Multimedia, Meru, Pwani, Maasai Mara, Technical University of Kenya and Technical University of Mombasa (TUM).

In the process, village polytechnics that once turned primary school drop outs into skilled artisans disappeared.

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What Kibaki had set in motion did not stop with his exit in 2013 as three years later; President Kenyatta issued eight charters on a single day—October 7, 2016. As a result Kirinyaga, Machakos, Rongo, Co-operative, Taita Taveta, Murang’a,  Embu and Kenya Assemblies of God universities came to being. Garissa was skipped because terrorists had struck the institution, then a constituent college of Moi University in April, but elevated it a month later.

Quickly consumed by the new university charters were middle-level colleges such as those that trained teachers (Bondo, Narok, Kisii, Kibabii), and farmers (Kabianga, Laikipia, Eldoret, Embu, Pwani, Ukai) institutes of technology (Kirinyaga, Rongo, WECO, Kimathi) and national polytechnics of which Kenya and Mombasa national polytechnics are cases in point. Marvel that Kisumu and Eldoret national polytechnics were left standing.

It is notable that seven of Kibaki’s charters were issued on March 1, 2013, only five months to his exit in August. He had issued four (Kisii, Eldoret, Multimedia, Laikikia) the previous month. It puzzles that he was in such a hurry.

Uhuru escorted his October 7, 2016 torrent of charter awards with an executive order freezing forthwith the establishment of new universities to, in his words, “give a focus on strengthening existing ones and enhance quality”.

Three years later, the ghost of new universities is yet to be exorcised. Bomet County is struggling to make its first university a reality after a protracted controversy over its location.

The runaway burgeoning of universities and commercialisation to boot at the expense of research have had the adverse effect of diluting once valued degrees and suffocating Technical and Vocational Education Training, hence the scarcity of plumbers, welders, carpenters and other skilled artisans.

It is no wonder that Education CS George Magoha could not find a skilled plumber at his Yala home in Siaya County, yet Odera Akang’o campus of Moi University is just a stone’s throw away from his backyard.

The Government in my view cannot escape blame for the sorry state of affairs. That probably explains why the idea of merging universities is being floated to the chagrin of those who have benefitted from the imbroglio, among them professors and lecturers who hop from one institution to another minting money from poor students and parents. The Government must act fast to put its house in order.

Mr Ombuor is Senior Writer at The Standard. [email protected]

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Former President Mwai KibakiEducation CS George MagohaUniversity charters