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February 17, 2019

Are our universities promoting negative ethnicity?

THE curse of ethnicity is so rampant in the public and private universities across the country, thus negating the constitutional requirement that calls for regional diversity. Gender too, is a big issue with few female lecturers getting elective positions.

Cord leader Raila Odinga recently complained that the universities were becoming ethnic enclaves. Before that, Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi had raised concerns that institutions of higher learning were setting a bad precedent by promoting tribalism.

In a report released recently to Kaimenyi, in almost all universities, 50 per cent of the positions are held by members of the dominant ethnic community where the university is located.

“This suggests a wide variability in ethnicity in these universities across the counties in Kenya,” the findings presented to Kaimenyi said.

Worst of all is Kirinyaga University college with 90 per cent of the positions held by the dominant community.University of Nairobi reported a good balance in terms of gender, regional and ethnic diversity. UON has 30 per cent Kikuyus, a similar per cent of Luos, 15.3 per cent of Luhyas and the rest of the country sharing the remaining 7.7 per cent.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Prof Teresa Akenga is being fought at the University of Eldoret is because she is considered an “outsider”. Residents of Chepkoilel led by Uasin Gishu Senator Isaack Melly have demonstrated more than once demanding Prof Akenga’s removal. Ironically, she is being accused of nepotism.

Nairobi lawyer Suiyanka Lempaa agrees that the trend across the country is worrying. “It is sad when all top positions go to the ethnic community of the vice chancellor,” he said.

The lawyer turned down a job offer at Maasai Mara University at his native county of Narok, saying he cannot be part of the people who entrench ethnicity in public universities.

When he returned from the UK in 2011, upon completing his Masters in law degree, he applied for jobs in almost all universities, with an eye for universities in Nairobi. But to his surprise, none of them offered him the job. The only response he got was from Maasai Mara University. In fact the institution approached his three times for him to teach criminology.

“Being a critic of negative ethnicity, I politely declined the offer. I am aware that charity begins at home but this should not be done in violation of international standards,” he said.

This negative trend started way back but it got worse in 2013 when President Mwai Kibaki granted many colleges charters to become full-fledged universities. There are now 68 universities, with 31 being public universities.

“After the universities were granted charters, some of the best lecturers in the original five universities went back to their villages to teach. Why go back to your village?” Lempaa posed.

It is now obvious that there was no proper planning while setting up these universities. This is reflected in appointments, which were made without scrutiny and the need for regional balance.

“Further, appointments are generally based on the staff available in the departments who were hired as lecturers in the first place thus merit and other attributes are given priority as opposed to regional, ethnic and gender balance,” the report says.

And once the vice chancellors settled in, all other appointments were made along ethnic lines. The end result is that the university is not any different from village polytechnics.

Lempaa says that with the entrenchment of ethnicity, the status of universities are degraded. “This negates the name universal- thus supposed to encompass all. They should employ from far and wide so long as they are competent and qualified for the job,” Lempaa said.

For the way forward, Kaimenyi’s report recommended that all appointive and elective posts should now be filled based on ethnic, gender and regional balance requirements, “In order to enhance the spirit of constitutionalism and give all public institutions a national outlook”.

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