28 September 2006

Kenya: Student Violence Baffling

Nairobi — Public universities have registered relative calm in the past three years. Student agitation, strikes and violence that were common in the 1980s and 1990s have been infrequent.

On several occasions, students have publicly declared that they had rested the ghost of strike and violence and instead, were pursuing the noble goals of peace characterised by dialogue, tolerance and reason. Indeed, the public was beginning to believe that at last, sanity had been restored at the universities.

Thus, it was surprising that Kenyatta University students decided to go on the rampage on Monday night to protest power outage. In their mindless and misdirected anger, they resorted to stoning motorists on Thika road, and setting ablaze three vehicles, one of them a matatu.

They may have been a handful of unruly students, but what they did has shamed the entire university. Clearly, the public appreciates the difficulties students go through on campuses, which in some ways lead them to do crazy things in the name of venting out their frustrations.

But everyone else goes through those frustrations. If it is lack of money to feed themselves, the students are not alone. Thousands of Kenyans sleep hungry every day. As for electricity, only 20 per cent of Kenyans enjoy that privilege.

Despite all this, the suffering thousands have never gone out to stone anybody's car, harass and rob any traveller or do anything untoward.

Vice-Chancellor Olive Mugenda has taken the lead in apologising publicly over the matter. So did student leaders. But the damage had already been done.

The university must move quickly to identify the hooligans among its student population and punish them harshly as a deterrent against such senseless actions in future.

It may be a cliche, but the students must always remember that it is the burdened taxpayers who keep footing the bill for their stay on campus. They should never do anything that hurts the hands that feed them.

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