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Leadership crisis at Kenya’s top varsity as VC sent home

The University of Nairobi Council Chairperson Julia Ojiambo, Chancellor Vijoo Rattansi and outgoing Vice Chancellor Prof Peter Mbithi at the launch of the institution’s 2018-2023 strategic plan earlier this year. (David Gichuru, Standard)

The rejection of a second term request by the University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor Peter Mbithi has opened a leadership crisis and sparked off power struggles at the premier institution.

It is emerging that with the likelihood of the university council’s action to send Prof Mbithi on leave being challenged in court, the crisis may drag further, widening the leadership gap.

Already, most of the Deputy Vice Chancellor’s slots are occupied under acting capacities after the appointments to the positions hit a snag.

Most of the positions are still held in acting capacities even after former Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed appointed four deputy vice-chancellors to avert a leadership crisis.

Kiama Gitahi is still the acting DVC human resource and administration as Isaac Mbeche acts in the finance and planning docket.

Mbeche is, however, the substantive DVC students affairs. Madara Ogot is also acting DVC research production and extension.

Acting DVCs

Insiders yesterday said various factions are emerging to jostle for the VC’s position after the council rejected Mbithi’s request and asked him to re-aplly. Sources close to Prof Mbithi told Saturday Standard that the appointment of the VC will be a long drawn tussle as the council’s action heads to court.

In rejecting the second term request, the council cited the new law occasioned by an amendment to the Universities Act.

“Consequently, within the legislative framework, the council is not in a position to consider, approve and recommend your reappointment as requested in your letter dated May 19, 2019,” reads a letter by Julia Ojiambo, council chairperson. The council now wants Mbithi to reapply for the position under the new law occasioned by an amendment to Universities Act.

In her letter, Prof Ojiambo explains that the amendment to the Universities Act (2012) came into force in January 18, 2019. The amendment gave the Public Service Commission (PSC) powers to recruit vice chancellors and other senior administrators.

“The amendment demands that appointment be through a competitive process. No doubt you will be eligible to apply,” reads the letter.

The letter dated June 26 asks Mbithi to take leave from July 6 to allow due process.

“In view of the above and in order to allow for reappointment process of the vice-chancellor to take place as provided for in the constitution and all other enabling statues, you are hereby requested to proceed on leave effective July 6,” reads the letter.

The letter, however, says that during the entire leave period, Mbithi will be entitled to the terms and conditions of his appointment. Sources told Saturday Standard the decision was made after a council meeting held on Tuesday.

Council members include Mighulo Mghanga, Hassan Abdi Mohamud, Flora Mtuweta, Isaac Chebon Kiprop, Kariuki Muchemi, Samuel Kiiru and Jocelyn Marie Rarieya.

Others are representatives of the Ministry of Education and National Treasury Principal Secretaries.

Reappointment process

The University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) of the University of Nairobi chapter yesterday waded into the matter, supporting the council’s decision.

“It was long overdue and the University of Nairobi will at long last regain its stature as the premier institution of higher learning,” said Uasu Chapter Secretary George Omondi.

He said the move is the beginning of a change process to reorganise the structural and human resources transformation. “The students of this university are suffering due to poor leadership from Mbithi,” said Omondi.

Uasu national Secretary General Constantine Wesonga affirmed their support in the council’s decision.

“The notice was a polite way of informing Mbithi to go away forever,” Wesonga said.

Sources close to the VC however said the amendment to the law does not invalidate acquired rights.

The insiders said Mbithi has a right to serve a second term, saying the VC has never been subjected to any disciplinary process.

“The decision is based on malice, ill will and vendetta based on choreographed press propaganda preceding council decision. It is illegal, null and void and should be challenged in court,” said an insider.

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