Students need alternatives to protest action – Experts

The frequent closure of university campuses owing to student unrest over a range of issues is disrupting the learning process, discouraging the enrolment of future students and harming the reputation of students. Mechanisms for conflict resolution, tolerance and respect for student views are needed to achieve a long-term solution, say experts.

In the past couple of months, almost half of public universities in Kenya have been indefinitely closed due to student unrest. Major institutions include the University of Nairobi and Moi University, with Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, University of Eldoret and Laikipia, Kisii and Maseno universities being the latest casualties.

The indefinite closure of Makerere University in neighbouring Uganda by that country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, last week also affects many Kenyan students as over 50% of foreign students at the institution are Kenyans.

Maseno University was closed last week after two days of student unrest following the killing of a student, allegedly by a resident from the nearby Mabungo Village, and the subsequent death of a villager.

‘30 minutes to vacate’

Announcing the indefinite closure of Maseno, its acting vice-chancellor, Catherine Muhoma, said that the university environment could no longer support learning and gave students 30 minutes to vacate the campus.

“Following the events of last night which resulted in the death of a student, and the skirmishes with the police this morning, the university environment has become volatile and not conducive for learning,” said Muhoma in a statement.

She added: “The university senate has therefore decided that the university be closed with immediate effect. Students should therefore vacate the university premises in 30 minutes.”

At some of these institutions, students were about to write end-of-semester examinations but could now be forced to wait until next year. This implies that the commencement of the next academic year will be delayed and students may spend more time on their studies than anticipated.

Given the increasing student population in Kenya, such developments add to existing pressure on resources such as libraries, lecturers and venues.


Other features of student protests are violence and destruction of property. During protests, students frequently break into off-campus shops and businesses, looting property worth thousands of shillings.

In the most recent protests by Maseno University students, property worth millions of shillings was destroyed and stolen. During such incidents, civilians have also been known to participate in destruction and looting, thereby escalating the damage further. Other impacts include the loss of working hours for businesses which are forced to close, and delays in traffic owing to road closures.

While the most recent Maseno University protests were attributed to student unhappiness over the death of a peer, student fee hikes are a major and consistent source of student unhappiness and have fuelled a number of protests.

Kenyan universities are experiencing a huge funding gap, challenging their capacity to meet their mandates. A study by regulator body the Commission for University Education recently indicated that the universities face a US$100 million budget gap.

As a result, some institutions have resorted to increasing tuition fees, leading to rampant student protests at institutions such as Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, the University of Nairobi, Moi University, and Makerere University in Uganda.

In the absence of alternative and sustainable funding sources, such protests are expected to continue, if not escalate.

Student elections

Another factor behind campus closures are student leadership elections which have become notorious for igniting unrest. In April, post-election violence at the University of Nairobi led to widespread destruction of property on the streets of Nairobi and on the university’s premises. As a result, the university’s senate resolved to indefinitely close its campuses halting the examinations process.

Post-election violence at Maseno University last year also led to the death of two students and injuries to others. Similarly, management closed the institution indefinitely and sent the students home.

According to George Nyabuga, a senior lecturer from the University of Nairobi’s School of Journalism, protests are one means through which students can be heard, and are legitimate as long as they do not impinge on the rights of others.

Speaking to University World News, Nyabuga said students lacked role-models from whom to learn better means of conflict resolution. He said students often took to the streets because they saw political leaders, civil society and activists taking similar action.

Conflict resolution

He said promoting peaceful mechanisms of conflict resolution, tolerating and respecting the views of others, and listening to and acting on the views of students could help minimise protests and reduce the fallout and reputational damage consequent upon protest action.

“We have seen the reputation of some students from, for example, the University of Nairobi, damaged for years because of the activities of a few who have taken advantage of protests to engage in criminality,” noted Nyabuga, adding that frequent rampages could also cause some individuals or organisations to withdraw their support for either universities or students.

Lusike Mukhongo, deputy campus director (academics) at Moi University’s Nairobi campus, said that ongoing protests could lead to a heightened sense of apathy among students with regard to the education system in Kenya. He said institutions have a lot of work to do to resolve the situation.

“A lot of issues need to be addressed to create an open space for expression by students, and a timely response by those in charge of student affairs,” he said.