I take a break from the usual men-women stuff and drop something about political leadership in the University of Nairobi. The usual tales and whining on whining will resume next week…
This week, I will be autobiographical and wax philosophical about my involvement in student leadership and politics of the University of Nairobi. I must admit from the outset that it is not something mildly colourful or worth writing home about, but it is an experience worth noting.
I have been closer to the former chairman and the lady who was in charge of the caretaker that took charge after the union was disbanded and I participated in the just concluded elections manning the biggest polling station.
My involvement in the student leadership can only be labeled as active-passive. I have always been there in the decisive moments even if my involvement was no more than observing the goings on. Let us get it on.
It all started with me picking Bachelor of Arts when selecting my degree. When I joined campus, I picked Political Science, Language & Communication and Literature. But it was the Literature class where everything imploded. The Literature class was the most talented class to have ever been assembled anywhere in a Kenya University. You can take that to the bank.
Everyone in the class was something, or was on his way to become something and they have accomplished their dreams in their stay in campus. There was me, already published with the major dailies. There was Alex Kirui, already an established children cartoonist. There was Boniface Mwalii, a gifted rapper, who apparently shelved his rapping ambitions and settled for the media job and is responsible for the popular Campo Sanity column in the Sunday Nation’s buzz, which was essentially the brainchild of a small group we formed called The Sentry. There was Charlene Kimara who chaired the caretaker for one year and was in charge of the SONU election as the lead commissioner, and a commendable job she did. Charlene also has a promising career in music and academia. All the best. Among others who will definitely colour this country in one way or the other.
And there was David Osiany. The tall, flamboyant chap shot with the gift of the gab and a voice that is a cross of Ken Rogers and Don Williams when he is singing. The first time he spoke in class, everyone knew that he was an extra-ordinary individual. There was an overbearing confidence about him, partly bordering on arrogance, partly bordering on self-confidence and completely disarming.
We became friends with David who had meteoritic ambitions. He wanted to become the SONU chairman in first year. On second thoughts he chose to run for the Faculty of Arts representative and we run some of the most unusual campaigns, door to door and ladies were especially impressed by his oratorical skills that completely wooed them and they voted overwhelmingly for him. He became quite a larger-than-life figure invariably amazing people by his gift of the gab.
Over the same period, one Dennis Marangu, the then chairman for Nairobi University Arts Students Association (NUARSA), was courting me to join the organization to help him edit the largely ambitious Bi-lingual Magazine called-Sauti Readers Journal-owing to my considerable background in the media. Dennis is one of those guys who is always brimming with ideas and readily talks about them incessantly and can be tedious about them. But a great chap he was. A true inspiration.
These are some of the chaps who the government ought to recognize. Some of his ideas were too precious. Too bad that he was born on the wrong part of the world. In the next election, I was elected, or appointed to be the Publicity secretary of NUARSA. Later on, the UN launched its inaugural talks on environment with NUARSA which Osiany moderated and from then henceforth his star kept rising. On the other end, our writing was getting published and life was generally good. I feel wistful nostalgia about it.
My role as the NUARSA publicists remained in the title only and doing some editing for the magazine that had brilliant ideas but badly assembled with enough typos to be sued any publisher worth his salt. Sauti Readers sold a good number of copies that saw even Stanford University ask for the subsequent issues. So unfortunate that the magazine never quite took off and one of my painful regrets I carry on with from the University.
In second year, Osiany went for the chairmanship, making history by trouncing a former SONU chair, Ngaruiya KJ(something very unhistorical, any former student leader or someone suspended making a comeback always got an automatic entry into the union). I grew to admire his (Ngaruiya) iron guts. Hate him or love him, he is a dedicated individual, vengeful at heart and must settle any score even if it takes ages. Can make quite a good character for my novel. His oratorship and convincing tactics saw him elected into office.
In the meantime, I was climbing up in NUARSA contentedly becoming the Vice-Chair. I had my eyes on the Prize: Become the NUARSA Chair, which in retrospect was by far a much visionary move than going for often murky politics of SONU.
In third year, Osiany committed what has been largely considered political suicide when he chose to do the unthinkable: running for the second time ignoring the will of his closest of friends. He persisted and the students protested and this saw the school shut down pronto and with that I lost 45 days rather unnecessarily.
I remember at the time being induced into the Caretaker Committee and refusing thinking that students deserved better. I stuck with NUARSA, became the chair after running my own elections with my partner in crime in the name of Bon-I. I was later to join the
Caretaker as the Main Campus representative and sat among the 18 representative who were generally not any different from the SONU politicians. I’m not being holier-than-thou, if anything I have had my fair share of not so clean dealings within but I’m just saying we are all cut from the same cloth. If anything, I observed rather curiously that most of the individuals there had tried something in SONU but failed miserably.
With the eventual looming return of the SONU, we positioned ourselves to be the commissioners in the SONU elections after the long brainstorming sessions that saw the seats eventually being reopened for self-sponsored students. The talks were laborious and painstaking. Sometimes too acrimonious. The Kikuyu-Luo rivalry nakedly informed the decisions and one could the long distance we have to travel in order to trounce tribalism in this country. Fists occasionally were exchanged. But eventually we delivered SONU, less controversially and Babu Owino becomes the first ever Module II to lead a public university and boy, did he spend?
There is nothing prestigious about being a student leader in the university. It is a gate-pass to steal or spend recklessly the students’ funds available. It is about feeling important in an environment where the next student doesn’t give a damn about who you are or what you do. More than half the student population don’t even know who the Chair is. And Nairobi University students won’t give a damn, or a fuck even if they had 20737 of them. Something that distantly amuses me.
I have had my moments. I have rubbed shoulders with the who is who in the university. I have encountered the who is who in the country but the only thing that is consistent about all these people is their myopic nature. Their insecurities with their jobs. The paranoia. The lack of objectivity. The appalling selfishness. Oh my!
It is impossibly difficult to pull something constructive for the student if you are a well-intentioned individual. The stifling bureaucracy will either make you a thief or simply drive you to give up on stuff. The old guard and the complacent young, ever so willing to bootlick, conspire to stifle any move that generally elevate the university to a truly world class university.
All I know, is the university has a long way to go before it achieves the world glory. Taming tribalism and getting the village out of the students is a better place to start…It is hard to find a student leader who can sustain a moderately academic argument before resorting to tribalism or fists. It is impossible to see any visionary leader. Many an excellent student would rather die than try politics. Reminds one of the wise donkeys in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. They were wise but never could talk…No wonder we always get the leaders we deserve.