- Jokerio, a suburb at the outskirt of the university and where close to 2,000 students reside in private hostels, is now a ghost town.
- Speaking to the Star, the distraught residents said the government has failed to heed to their plea and break the stalemate so that the university can be reopened.
The closure of Egerton University in Nakuru county November last year is taking an economic toll on the residents around the institution.
Learning at the Njoro-based institution was cut short after the teaching and non-teaching staff withdrew their services, protesting the university's failure to honour a CBA of 2017-2021.
The standoff has now affected the livelihoods of the people who live around the university, and who heavily depend on students to make a living.
Students have also borne the brunt of the strike with some having to repeat an academic year since 2019.
Jokerio, a suburb on the outskirts of the university and where close to 2,000 students reside in private hostels, is now a ghost town.
Shops are closed with a just handful of businesspeople still hanging on to hope that the once vibrant suburb will spring back to life.
Speaking to the Star, the distraught residents said the government has failed to heed to their plea and break the stalemate so that the university can be reopened.
John Mungai, alias Mwangi Community, a businessman who operates a shop in the area, said he has been forced to give out some shop items since they are almost expiring in the shelves.
“When the students are here business is booming. The economy of this area depends entirely on the existence of students from this university. When they are around, all the youths who reside here are actively engaged and earn an income,” Mwangi said.
He added that those who used to supply potatoes, beans and other foodstuff have had to look for alternative market for their goods, something which affects circulation of money in the area.
“We have more than 15 hotels in this area, many barber shops, salons, butcheries, groceries and other small businesses that operate here. Now, more than 30,000 people who surround the Egerton area are suffering,” Mwangi added.
He said efforts to talk to the leadership, including Njoro MP Charity Kathambi, has been futile since no feedback has been given to them on when the institution will reopen.
“We have even implored the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga when he was here for the campaigns to give our message to President [Uhuru Kenyatta], but we have not seen any positive feedback.”
Another sector greatly affected is the matatu industry. The Nakuru-Egerton route which depends on student population is almost on its knees.
Samuel Mungai, who owns a matatu that ply the Nakuru-Egerton area, said it has been one of his most lucrative businesses, but since the students left, he is even unable to service his loans.
Another victim of the closure is Dennis Makau, who is the Egerton student council president. He was to complete his studies last year but now he is uncertain when that will happen.
Makau said the standoff has affected many students, some of whom had applied for attachments and scholarships but will have to forfeit everything for now.
“I have tried to engage the vice chancellor and the chairman of the [university] council but they have not given me anything substantive that I can convey to my fellow students. I have also engaged the MP but so far there is nothing tangible,” he said.
“More than 500 students have engaged me with intention to transfer to other universities," he added.
"As a leader this is so demoralising because I ought to be the bearer of hope but I have bluntly told them to do it because I have no other choice.”
The stalemate however seems to be far from over. The university on Monday suspended 14 leaders of the institution's Academic Staff Union in what they said is participating in an “illegal” strike.
In a letter to the lecturers, the university said the strike, which started on November 12 last year, was a violation of their contracts and was classified as absence from duty without lawful authority.
The letter seen by Star also instructed the dons to hand over their responsibilities and any university property under their care to the chairman of their departments and vacate their office with immediate effect.
However, UASU Egerton University Academic Staff Union chairperson Prof Mwaniki Ngari dismissed the suspension, insisting that their strike was legal and protected by law.
Egerton University is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Kenya.
It was founded as a Farm School in 1939 by Lord Maurice Egerton of Tatton, a British national who settled in Kenya in the 1920s.
In 1986, Egerton Agricultural College was gazetted as a constituent college of the University of Nairobi and the following year marked the establishment of Egerton University through an Act of Parliament.
The university currently has a population of about 19,000 students and more than 500 academic staff.
(edited by Amol Awuor)