KENYA: Government acts to avert lecturer strike

Kenya's government has set aside two billion Shillings (US$26.3 million) for public lecturers' salaries in a bid to forestall a planned strike - at all of the country's seven state universities - over a delay in implementing a 15% salary increase.

Assistant Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Kilemi Mwiria, assured lecturers that the government had catered for the funds in the current year's budget.

He urged the University Academic Staff Union (UASU) to call off the October strike because the government was committed to fulfilling the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) they had both entered into.

Speaking during the 41st graduation at the University of Nairobi recently, the Minister said the government was conducting further negotiations with the Treasury to have more funds allocated in the supplementary budget by March.

"The government has set aside Shs2 billion to be available at the end of this month to pay academic staff members," he said. "Therefore you can count on the government to fulfil the promise. But I must hasten to add that the increment in salaries comes with responsibilities."

The government's assurance was against the backdrop of an imminent strike, slated to start on 12 October, involving more than 5,000 lecturers from seven public universities, as declared by UASU national officials recently.

The lecturers are demanding payment of a 15% rise - part of a total 45% pay hike - agreed between the UASU and government's representative Inter-Public University Councils Consultative Forum in June.

At the University of Nairobi graduation, Vice-chancellor Professor George Magoha said in his speech - before that of Mwiria - that universities were willing to pay lecturers the agreed salaries but were unable to because the government had not paid them the money.

"We appeal to the government to release the funds within the month to enable us pay the lecturers as agreed," Magoha said.

The vice-chancellor commended his academic staff on their patience and dedication to service regardless of the salary disagreement, noting that they had continued to work towards improving academic standards.

He said the university had progressed in terms of research activities and singled out for praise Dr Elizabeth Obimbo and her team, who this year managed to source US$2.8 million for research. Magoha disclosed that the university now receives Shs800 million from donors annually for research, on top of Shs100 million set aside by the university.

During the graduation a total 3,947 students from the schools of Agriculture and Veterinary, Architecture and Engineering, Biological and Physical Sciences, and Education and External Studies, were awarded various diplomas and degrees.

Chancellor Dr Joseph Wanjui said that with a student population of over 46,000, the University of Nairobi was the largest higher education institution in the region and aimed to achieve its goal of becoming a world-class university.

He added that the university had a critical role to play in Kenya's development through teaching and research. "The country is currently faced with a number of problems including an economic crisis and severe drought. The university has the necessary intellectual capacity to assist the government in addressing these problems," Wanjui said.