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Engage students in dialogue to avert consequences of riots

By Boniface Musembi | May 31st 2013

By Boniface Musembi

NAIROBI,KENYA: Student riots have been a salient feature of Kenyan colleges and Universities since the 1960’s. The government formed several commissions to unearth the underlying causes of riots and propose possible solutions but all has been in vain.

Taking time to sample the previous student riots has informed that such riots can be prevented by involving students in decision making, establishing functional channels of communication between the administration and students and responding to student needs in time.

The causes of student riots have been identified as internal factors such as financial constraints, examination stress, drug abuse, interference by administration on students affairs and misunderstanding between the students and University administration. The external factors include insecurity within their institutions, police harassment and influence by politicians.

Student riots have led to loss of lives, frustration of motorists, looting from nearby shops and destruction of property within and without Universities. Sometimes thugs take advantage of such riots to loot from shops and supermarkets and rob motorists. The matter is serious to the extent that some employers have suffered in the hands of rioting students and vowed never to employ graduates from certain universities. At times innocent students are expelled from institutions of higher learning, some from very poor family backgrounds and end up frustrating efforts of their parents/ guardians to educate them.

I propose several measures to prevent riots in our institutions of higher learning: University administration should involve students in decision making. If students are involved in decision making about salient issues concerning their lives, they are likely to identify with the outcomes of such processes. Involvement of students in management decisions improves the quality of life, increases efficiency in service delivery, enhances motivation, reduces strife and enhances social cohesion.

The student leaders and management of the institutions should ensure that they have a communication channel to receive information from students regarding pertinent issues needing the attention of the administration. They could consider having forums to allow students raise their opinions about the issues they feel need the attention of the administration. They could be allowed to discuss the problems they are experiencing and propose solutions to curb them. The forums should be facilitated such that the students are allowed time to raise the issues without confrontation. It is during such forums when the administration should let the students know any changes they want to introduce in their institutions and the rationale for such decisions.  

Management of Universities should allow students run their affairs without interference. Many times students have gone to the streets complaining about administrators interfering with student elections. Sometimes Vice- chancellors want to ensure their sycophants are elected to lead student bodies against the students’ wish. This has led to friction between administration and students forcing students to go to the streets. I believe the students are mature enough to elect leaders who have their interests at heart and who are competent and of high integrity.

Administrations of colleges and Universities should buy stand-by generators to supply power in case of black outs.  In situations where the population is big and the administrations fear their incapability to supply sufficient power through a generator, they may consider limiting the power to support lighting only. Students have often rioted due to power failure during exam periods. This is a valid grievance though does not grant students any right to stone and torch cars and block roads. Administrations should be proactive and not reactive to student riots.

Student leaders should be trained on conflict resolution and management skills. Sometimes student leaders lack basic skills on how to address their grievances and result to using the traditional method of demonstrations. Trainings will help them see the many channels they can use to resolve their grievances.

Student leaders should use the media to address matters of national interest before going to the streets. I am aware that at times our politicians understand the language of demonstrations better than dialogue; however, the media is a powerful tool of influence that student leaders need to explore first before taking their grievances to the streets. They can also consider meeting the concerned stakeholders to discuss the issues of contention before thinking of going to the streets.

The guidance and counseling department need to be strengthened in institutions of higher learning to be able to handle stress and drug abuse cases among students. Professional staff should be recruited in the department to effectively and efficiently offer advice to students.

University management should be proactive to the issues raised by students and not reactive. They need not to wait until students go to the streets then they address their grievances. Once students raise a matter, the management should move with speed and address the issue. At time administrations forget that students are their main clients and don’t take their welfare dear but give priority to their selfish interest. This should stop!

In conclusion, the Ministry of Education needs to put in place a policy on how Institutions of higher learning can prevent student riots. This should articulate how students will be involved in decision making and put in place communication channels between students and University management.

Boniface Musembi is a Communication Consultation at Ray Africa Consultants. ([email protected] )


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