When a college student spends millions campaigning for a seat tagged with a Sh6,000 monthly allowance, the act is laughed off as conceited folly of the highest degree. Such wannabe politicians are dismissed as youth plagued with an identity crisis, out to quench their thirst for recognition and a little fame. All these conclusions are not entirely spot-on, as Hashtag has established through a keen investigation.
Jacob Siwa, who seats on the University of Nairobi Students Organisation (Sonu) congress as a faculty representative divulges that one needs at least Sh3 million to vie for any of the highest student governance seats.
“UoN is big. You need presence at the coast, Kisumu, Lower and Upper Kabete, Chiromo, Kikuyu, Kenya Science and the main campus where you must establish bloggers, loyalists and goons to be assured of a stable footing. All these human resource must be paid,” Siwa says.
According to Siwa, the wage expenses added to a substantial investment in attire-quality suits and shoes, a budget for campaign posters, and at least one luxury car amounts to the millions that aspirants invest in campus politics.
And in a past interview, Paul Ongili alias Babu Owino (currently vying for Embakasi East MP post)who was the longest serving Sonu chairman (four years) confessed spending close to Sh9 million in campaigns for one of his terms in office.
Cases of candidates dishing out money to the electorate is also a common practice in Kenyan universities.
“Interestingly, male candidates usually amass their numbers depending on how much cash they dish out to students and the number of cars one uses during their campaigns,” Syno Joseph, a student at UoN reveals.
Comparing these expenses to what the student leaders at UoN and other public universities earn, it would be considered irrational to think of investing in campus politics in the first place.
At UoN, for instance, executive members of Sonu each earn Sh6, 000 per month. This allowance is paid to the president, the organising secretary, the secretary general, the finance secretary and the health secretary. Students in charge of academic affairs also pocket a similar amount. Members of Congress, including the faculty representatives, congressmen and congress ladies, as well as the nominated members of congress at UoN each walk away with Sh2, 000 every month.
Conclusions drawn here hint on possible reasons that students break sweat looking to occupy seats on student governing councils. As you already figured out, the minuscule allowance happens not to fall among these motives.
In fact, those who eye top student governance seats follow an allure of the millions in the student kitty, fat cheques from politicians, exposure to job opportunities and scholarships and last but not least, a background for a political career.
Government-sponsored students at UoN remit Sh500 towards the Sonu treasury while their module II counterparts part with Sh1, 000 for the same cause.
Quick math, keying in a population of over 80, 000 students, and one gapes at the millions of shillings that are put under the care of Sonu governance who are trusted to make lives of students comfortable.
A source familiar with the actual fate of the Sonu coffers, however, divulges that misappropriation of these funds is one of the reasons that aspiring student leaders would kill to occupy top seats in the student governance.
“Student leaders access a lot of money without the knowledge of the larger student body. It is just unfortunate that money meant for student welfare only ends in the pockets of the same student leaders,” says the source, who asks not to be named since he holds a top seat on the same council.
Access to students’ kitty
“To fund your concocted budget, all you need is three signatures from fellow executive members to access the funds. On approval, you can now access the money, pay off the signatories and some of your goons, and vamoose with the lion’s share,” the student leader reveals.
According to the student, goons who help student leaders secure their seats always hang around for an entire term in office to have a share in what is stolen from the students’ kitty.
Electioneering is a time, according to Kennedy Kabachi, a student at Egerton University, that goons who surround an aspirant victimise opponents into surrender.
“Numbers portray that you are everything during the campaigns especially if you walk around with a huge crowd of friends,” Kabachi says.
Salim Mbuya, an Education student at Maseno University recalls an election period within the university that was characterised by indefinable victimisation from goons.
“Some time back, a male presidential candidate who I can’t mention for my own security threatened to order his goons to rape all girls that occupied a certain hall in campus if they failed to vote him into office,” Salim says.
He hints on a past election where a presidential candidate was allegedly attacked at a guest house and molested by hired goons to an extent of being hospitalised.
“Embezzling students’ money is always a chain of organised crime. In fact, the goons are usually alerted to pick their share even before you complete signing the documents. Even if you really wanted to help the students with the money that is rightfully theirs, there are always these goons watching and you just can’t escape them,” the source at Sonu says.
Aside pilfering student coffers, people who plunge themselves into campus politics also have their eye fixed on the innumerable opportunities from other parties interested in student affairs.
“A student leader attracts politicians who envision a potential recruiter in the student body which is always metropolitan. The student leader in turn finds a regular source of income,” Joseph says.
This funding, however, according to an unnamed source, is given according to a student leader’s ‘relevance’ at the university.
Student political magnets who are capable of doubling up as a source of ‘campus girls’ happen to get fatter cheques from the politicians who are also known to prey on university beauties.
Student leaders who also play foot soldiers, bloggers and political mobilisers for these politicians are also paid generously.
Many universities continue to grapple with the challenge of phasing out national political interference with student governance.
“At Kenyatta University, we have put up our mercenaries to nab politicians who come and encourage politics on tribal lines, thereby trashing our efforts to bring about integration among the students,” Prof Paul Wainaina, Ag VC Kenyatta University tells Hashtag.
Prof Wainaina says that to encourage national integration among students at Kenyatta University, especially in student politics, the university organises students into small integration groups where they are made to understand the negative face of divisive politics.
With the occasioned rigging, violence and alignment on tribal lines, the similarity between student politics and what happens in national politics is perturbing. This begs the question what institutions of higher learning are doing to prepare young politicians before they enter into the actual battle field.
A university is meant to be a place where the youth are nurtured into responsible leaders, cultivated with values and correct attitudes and ideals stipulated in the constitution asserts Dr Mumo Nzau who is a governance and national security strategist as well as a university don at Catholic University of Eastern Africa,
“Unfortunately, the students find no proper model to emulate even in their lecturers, some of whom are not fit to be teaching in university,” he laments.
Dr Mumo expresses his disappointment that some universities allow people with questionable credentials to work at universities in the capacity of lecturers and even vice-chancellors.
“When you have such corrupt individuals at the university’s top management, you allow incompetent guards and gatekeepers who have the last say about everything that goes on in the university including student politics. They rarely have the students’ interests at heart,” he says.
Apart from the puffed up coffers, student leaders find a platform to start shaping their own entry strategies into national politics.
The examples are many; including the latest flashy entry of Babu Owino, the controversial student leader cum politician who occupied the helm of SONU since 2010, who only stepped down after a bill that restricts student leaders to an office term of only one year was introduced in parliament.
Babu Owino is now running for Embakasi East Member of parliament seat, thanks to the platform that many believe was set at UoN.
“At a student governing council, one learns to handle the electorate and especially the youth who are a key factor for success in Kenyan elections,” Joseph says. Notable politicians in various political parties trace their political journey back to the seats they occupied in student governing councils.
Those who owe the inception of their political careers to Sonu include the likes of nominated Member of Parliament Johnson Sakaja who is vying for Nairobi senator, James Orengo is senator for Siaya County, Kipchumba Murkomen, the seator Elgeyo Marakwet, and Ababu Namwamba who is Budalangi Member of Parliament.
Hassan Omar, former chair of Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, now Mombasa senator shaped his political career at Moi University Students Organization (Muso) where he served as the organisations chair before he was expelled for opposing the naming of the institution after former President Moi.
And according to Siwa, it is students who serve on student governing councils that find opportunities waiting for them when they graduate.
Siwa says that campus events happen only with the consent of executive members on the student governing council, thereby exposing them to valuable networks and opportunities, long before other students get wind of them.