Two students killed in protests, universities close

Two Kenyan universities will not hold end-of-semester examinations ahead of the Christmas break after they were shut down following protests that left two students dead. The student riots were both linked to the examinations.

The protests came after a lull of nearly three years in campus unrest in Kenya.

The University of Nairobi and Egerton University – respectively the biggest and fourth largest public higher education institutions in the country – will remain closed until next year following days of demonstrations.

Student death in police cell

The University of Nairobi was shut last weekend after two days of rioting that students said was sparked by the death of a fellow student in a police station cell.

Erastus Abok, a second year engineering student, had been detained after he allegedly attempted to commit arson at the university, according to police Inspector General David Kimaiyo. The police said the student committed suicide while being held in a cell overnight.

The incident sparked one of the worst cases of riots in years, with students stoning motorists and destroying property in the central business district of the capital.

“We want the police to explain the circumstances under which the student died. The explanation that he committed suicide cannot be true,” claimed University of Nairobi student leader James Kinuthia.

Kimaiyo promised an open inquiry to establish the cause of the death, but this did not assuage students’ desire to register their displeasure at the unfortunate incident.

“The University of Nairobi senate has met following days of unrest and decided that this institution will be closed beginning [last] Sunday morning and until further notice” said a statement by Vice-chancellor Professor George Magoha.

Students were asked to vacate halls of residence immediately.

Last week a postmortem found that Abok had committed suicide by using a power cable in his cell to strangle himself, according to the Standard.

Police claimed that Abok was facing disciplinary action at the university after he was found cheating in an exam the day before he died, and that he had been arrested after allegedly trying to bomb the office where his papers were stored.

The Standard reported, however, that Abok’s family was not satisfied with the findings, “prompting another round of analysis”. The other student who died during the protests was identified by police as Edward Kubai.

Lecturers, parents angry with students

Some lecturers and parents, angered by the wanton destruction that came in the wake of the disturbances, alleged that students wanted to avoid exams and this was the real reason that they demonstrated over a matter that had been addressed by the police.

“These riots were not necessary as police had already promised an investigation. We suspect unprepared students found a good excuse to evade end-of-semester exams,” James Mogambi, a faculty of arts lecturer, told University World News.

“Usually at this time tensions are high and any small incident can spark riots.”

But this was denied by student leader Kinuthia. “The students just want justice and a further explanation as to how the second student died,” he said.

Trouble at Egerton University, located in the Rift Valley region, began after Vice-chancellor Professor James Tuitoek announced that the institution would be “closed until further notice following a breach in examinations set to commence before Christmas break”.

The action sparked immediate protest from direct-entry students, who contended that no breach had occurred and blamed the university authorities for the alleged leak. There ensued widespread protests by students who took to the streets in Nakuru, disrupting traffic and businesses.

Studies disrupted

Worst affected by the closures are self-funded students and adult learners, most of whom had hoped to complete the academic year after the pre-Christmas examinations.

“Our plans to complete studies on schedule have just been badly disrupted by the closure that we had nothing to do with,” complained John Kinyua, a self-funded student at the University of Nairobi who also works at the Kenya National Assembly.