Intense lobbying, boardroom intrigues and political interference has often characterised appointment of vice chancellors in public universities in Nyanza.
The region hosts four public universities namely Maseno, Kisii, Rongo and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology.
While the power plays may not have generated as much public drama as that witnessed in universities elsewhere, there is talk of behind-the-scenes intrigues that characterise appointment of top university managers.
“All the public universities are run in the same manner. It is not surprising that what was witnessed at the University of Nairobi has been happening in other universities though in different versions,” says Prof Wycliffe Oduor, a member of the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU), Maseno chapter.
Corruption and tribalism
An associate professor at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology who asked not to be named said corruption and tribalism are rampant in some appointments.
“In all universities in Nyanza, show me any VC who comes from a community outside the region. None. Does it mean there are no professors and experienced career managers from other communities serving in those universities,” he asked.
Some quarters argue that universities have become cash cows for politicians and occupants of high offices who seek control of the institutions to win tenders.
Peter Ndege says the politics surrounding the appointment of university VCs is not new.
According to Prof Ndege, who teaches history at Moi University, Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta set a dangerous precedent when he bypassed more qualified scholars to handpick Josphat Karanja for VC at the University of Nairobi between 1970 and 1979.
Karanja went on to become Kenya’s fifth vice president between 1988 and 1989.
“Without any experience in running of universities, Karanja was made a vice chancellor, sidestepping senior lecturers, associate professors and full professors. This set the stage for the tribalisation of universities in Kenya,” he argues.
Constantine Wasonga, UASU’s secretary general, says amendments to various clauses in Universities Act are behind the appointments debacle.
Dr Wasonga argues that the changes have made the appointments more political than professional.
“The amendment removed powers of appointing VCs and deputy VCs from university councils to the Public Service Commission (PSC) without stating clearly the role of the councils in the process,” he argues.
“What we are witnessing is a fight for tenders at the universities by the political class and those in high offices. Appointment of VCs should be delinked from the political class,” he says.
According to Wasonga, the union has held talks with the Education ministry to harmonise the conflicting clauses in the Universities Act to end the confusion, which he argues was putting Kenyan universities in limbo.
In the case of universities in Nyanza, Wasonga says the appointment of VCs has been smooth because it happened before amendment to the Universities Act.
“We have not had any appointment in universities in Nyanza done by the PSC as the recent legislation demands. All VCs were appointed by university councils and all of them were smooth,” he says.
But while university appointments have been relatively smooth in Nyanza, the same cannot be said of neighbouring Western Kenya region.
At Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Fredrick Otieno (now deceased) walked a difficult path as VC.
“After inheriting a Sh2 billion debt and a bloated wage bill when he took over, his move to get rid of ghost workers and clean up the finance department saw him run out of favour with university trade unions,” said a source at the university.
Prof Otieno also ran out of favour with the university council, which declined to renew his term in a letter dated November 19, 2018 and copied to the then Education CS Amina Mohamed.
This letter created divisions in the university council with some members disowning it.
The CS then appointed Prof Joseph Bosire as acting VC for seven months after which Prof Asenath Sigot took over.
Still, a number of senior university staff are working in acting capacity. For example, Prof Charles Mutai is the acting DVC for planning, research and innovation while Dr Patrick Ojera is the acting DVC in charge of finance and administration.
Majority of deans of schools, registrars and chairmen of departments are also in acting capacity.
Attempts to have the vacant positions filled, including by PSC, have failed or ended up in court.
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