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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 14 September 2014


University of Nairobi’s Vice Chancellor Prof George Omore Magoha’s tenure comes to an end after having served two terms of five years apiece. He is expected to preside over his last graduation ceremony as the chief executive officer of the university in December this year.

Attention has already shifted to his succession, attracting bitter rivalry among his deputies, University of Nairobi dons and other professors of high ranking from different parts of the world. Already, an advertisement has been placed in the daily newspapers calling those interested in the post to apply.

 Even with many people interested in the position, it is likely that politics, tribalism and the monetary interests at the mother university, will determine who becomes the next vice chancellor of the oldest, biggest and most prestigiouss learning institution  in Kenya.

It must be remembered that Magoha who is a Nigeria-trained professor of Surgery, was the first vice chancellor of a Kenyan public university to go through a competitive recruitment process that was carried out by the PriceWaterhouse Coopers in 2004. However, others say Magoha enjoyed a political placing of a section in President Mwai Kibaki government. He is said to have been close to Raphael Tuju, then a  minister and one of Kibaki’s trusted allies from Luo Nyanza.

The position had been left vacant after the unceremonial and acrimonious exit of Prof Crispus Kiamba. Kiamba had been forced out by the Kibaki regime which was keen on taking full control of the university by having the then University of Nairobi Enterprise Services managing director Prof James Kimani take over as the vice chancellor. The conspiracy was discovered by most stakeholders at the university and this hurt and jolted Kimani’s chances.

The then chancellor Joe Wanjui who had been newly appointed by Kibaki after Narc took power in 2003 was keen to have direct control to university funds and he did not consider Kiamba the best partner in that arrangement.

When a direct appointment, as it had been routine during Moi’s days became too controversial, Wanjui decided to recommend PWC to take charge of the recruitment process with required qualifications skewed to favour Kimani. Both Sonu and Uasu leadership structures were aware of the scheme and forced the University Council to recruit the cice chancellor through an open competition in a process considered transparent.

Apart from Magoha’s own academic qualifications, he was advantaged by virtue of having already served as the deputy vice chancellor in charge of administration and finance, having been Kiamba’s immediate successor in acting capacity and was the most preferred candidate by both the students and lecturers.

It was after the PWC interviews and other socio political considerations that a list of three final contenders emerged with Magoha leading, followed by Prof Jacob Kaimenyi who was then the deputy vice chancellor in charge of academic affairs and is now the cabinet secretary in charge of Education in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration.

The now late Kimani who was the state’s preferred contender for the position came third. In fact, the Kimani was out to get at the helm at the university using his State House connections at all costs. Following his death, Magoha beefed up his security and has always been accompanied by not less than two bodyguards in private or public functions.

Although the process produced different results from what Wanjui expected and wished, it created a precedence that has become a norm in the modern recruitment of the vice chancellors of public universities in Kenya. Magoha’s term was renewed in 2009 and as his tenure comes to an end, the recruitment process has already kicked off with applications for this coveted position running until the September 26.

Magoha’s tenure was generally characterised by suppression of students rights, interference in students elections and undemocratic component in students leadership that was reminiscent of the Kanu/Moi era. It is believed that Magoha learnt from Kiamba’s ‘mistakes’ and discovered that the only way to guarantee his grip at the helm of the university was to rule with an iron fist, have direct control on students leadership and suspend and expel as many students as possible without attracting any media attention or public scrutiny.

 Magoha will be remembered for dictatorial tendencies and reducing the number of students unrests during his tenure. Magoha is revered by foe and friend in equal measure. Most people consider him thorough, hands-on, merciless and brutal when dealing with his perceived enemies. As he retires, many former students will never manage to complete their education because of expulsions suffered under Magoha’s despotic hand.

His tenure has seen the highest number of student expulsions and suspensions only akin to those of Mwakenya days. It must be noted that Oulu GPO, a former Sonu vice chairman turned-activist had just been suspended by Magoha before joining the Oscar Foundation where he worked as a programme officer. It was during that time of the suspension that Oulu with activist Oscar King’ara were killed by unknown gunmen on March 5 2009 along State House road.

Immediately he became the university boss, Magoha started by relegating those who opposed him. It is said that he used to oppress  Kaimenyi who had no say at the university. In fact many contend that Kaimenyi’s outspokenness at the ministry of Education is because he is trying to compensate for the time he suffered silently under Magoha.

The Kaimenyi-Magoha war has been on and the cabinet secretary call to have public university accounts for monies received from the treasury and parallel studies was aimed at fixing Magoha.
It is with the same perceived viciousness that after becoming vice chancellor, Magoha sacked Kimani from Unes in August 2006. Kimani died less than a month later on September 15 2006 in a Pretoria hospital, South Africa while undergoing treatment of what was considered to be an abrupt illness.

It is believed Kimani having founded Unes had invested his hopes in it that he could not live with the reality that he had been dismissed from an institution whose establishment was his own brainchild which together with Prof Francis Gichaga, Prof Kibera and Prof Daniel Mukunya they had founded in 1997 as a way of collecting funds from students who enrolled at the university through the parallel degree programme. Kimani was too shocked to come to terms that his tenure at Unes had been summarily terminated by Magoha without any humane considerations.

Although many people are expected to apply, the University of Nairobi fraternity is always keen on having one of their own taking over. This has been routine and the tradition is yet to be broken. It is highly expected that as Magoha exits, one of his deputies or a principal of one UoN’s constituent colleges takes over in order to ensure smooth transition. The same initial interests that saw the Kibaki administration want to have Kimani as vice chancellor in 2004 appear to be similar to the ones endearing the Uhuru Kenyatta government to the determination of the ultimate winner of the interview that will declare the next vice chancellor of this grand academic powerhouse that is now worth billions of shillings.

The will and intention to have direct control of the UoN resources will be very primary in determining the eventual winner. Ethnicity and gender will play a critical role. The government too will be interested in having a person who can contain any form of students unrests.

According to sources, the government will not care whether the new vice chancellor adopts a different way of dealing with student activists or continues with Magoha’s rule of the iron fist.
Apparent change and overhaul of the previous regime has already started showing its face going by the recent replacement of Wanjui as the chancellor, a position that has since been taken over by Vojos Rattansi, a philanthropist in education and a member of the famous Rattansi family.

In terms of merit, several professors have already expressed interests and stand a chance. Among others, these include:
 Prof Henry Mutoro: He is a professor of History. If successful; Mutoro will be the first Luhya to become the vice chancellor of this supreme ivory tower. In succession, the previous vice chancellors were Arthur Porter 1964-1971, Dr Josephat Njuguna Karanja 1971-1978, Prof Joseph Maina Mungai 1978-1985, Prof Philip Muinde Mbithi 1985-1991, Prof Francis John Gichaga 1991-2002, Prof Crispus Makau Kiamba 2002-2005, and Prof George Magoha 2005-2014.

Mutoro is considered by many as friendly, focused and diplomatic. He is also considered to be untainted in his record as a university administrator. No scandal or controversy has been associated with him since he joined the ranks of university administrators more than two decades ago.

Previously, Mutoro served as the deputy principal in charge of the Lower Kabete campus School of Business and also presided over Kikuyu campus as the principal until 2013 when he became deputy vice chancellor in charge of academic affairs replacing Kaimenyi who had been appointed to cabinet. Mutoro’s biggest challenge is that he might be a victim of ethnic discrimination because he does not have a known political godfather in government. Unlike Magoha, he is also considered too soft and might be perceived to be too tolerant to students.

Prof Peter M F Mbithi:  Is currently the deputy vice chancellor in charge of administration and finance has been a lucky man. He is a professor of Veterinary Medicine. His rising through the ranks has been quite easy since he was elected dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in early 2003. He had only served as a dean for one week when the then newly elected Sonu leadership with the help of Upper Kabete campus students physically evicted Prof Daniel Mukunya who at that time was the principal of Upper Kabete campus.

The eviction of Mukunya by students in a Kamukunji that was attended by both Kiamba and  Magoha saw Mbithi appointed by Kiamba as acting principal as a result, students chanting his name as the preferred Mukunya successor. Mbithi was later confirmed as the principal of the College of Agriculture and Veterinary Studies, a position he occupied until he was appointed deputy vice chancellor in charge of administration and finance in 2005. He is a strong contender given his close association with Magoha who is said to have played a significant role in having him appointed to the position he currently holds.

The biggest challenge to Mbithi, however, is integrity. In 2010, his niece alleged that Mbithi had raped her. The niece also made allegations of the good professor still making advances towards her. It is also said that he has had very vicious conflicts with his own brother over a piece of land. It is said that the issues with his brother’s family almost cost him his job that he had to seek the intervention of Senator Johnson Muthama who was at the time the MP for Kangundo, government whip in parliament and an ardent defender of the Kibaki regime.

It is strongly believed that Mbithi survived after Kibaki’s intervention on the matter as a result of Muthama’s pleas. It will be hard for Mbithi to succeed if his brother and niece revive the toxic allegations. Among the Kamba people, just like in any other African culture, incest is a most serious of offences. His perceived bad relations with  Kaimenyi who is expected to play a role in the recruitment process might be detrimental to his quest. He has openly dismissed Kaimenyi as a political professor who survives on witch-hunt and that is why he landed his current political appointment.

Prof Lucy Wachuhi Irungu  is a professor of Entomology in the school of Biological Sciences. She is currently the deputy vice chancellor in charge of Research Production and Extension. She is said to be strongly connected to the state machinery. She is a niece of the former chancellor Wanjui. A highly placed source at State House has intimated that she is the state’s preferred person to occupy the position. In fact, she is said to be President Uhuru’s own choice. Her ethnicity and gender are her highest advantages.

It is said that she played a pivotal role in having Uhuru visit the University of Nairobi recently to lay the foundation stone of a skyscaper that is already under construction and has already reached to the seventh floor. The presence of the president who studied for his university education in America being the elite of the elite that he is, was more symbolic in terms of passing the baton from Magoha to Irungu.

 When completed, the building will be one of the tallest in Nairobi standing at a 22 floors, a dizzying height to bookworms. The completion of the building will see an expanded seating capacity for lectures to up to 3,000 students at a time. This, together with other university resources can be helpful to the regime only if the government has a friendly professor as the head administrator. This is not the first time Irungu is being linked to powerful state forces. It is not just her close association with the current powerful cabinet secretary, Anne Waiguru, but even her first time in the limelight was a result of such connections.

Her name rose to prominence when Wanjui was appointed the chancellor in 2004. Protected by the state, she presided over one of the most dictatorial regimes at Chiromo campus where she served as principal. She is accused of altering academic grades of students who did not toe her line which is a cardinal crime in intelligensia.

In January 2011, more positions of deputy vice chancellors were created and that opened an opportunity for her to be appointed as one in charge of Research Production and Extension, the position in which she has served since March 1 2011 to date. It is easy to tell that she has been prepared to take over from Magoha through the same state machinery that saw her appointed a the principal of Chiromo campus in 2004.

Her greatest weakness is the perception that she is a state marionnete and can not make independent decisions. The perception that President Uhuru has only been keen on appointing Kikuyus in powerful positions might hurt her chances. The fact that there are other women vice chancellors in other public universities like Prof Olive Mugenda of Kenyatta University and Prof Mabel Imbuga of Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Agriculture might also not aid her intention to flash the gender card. If appointed, she will be the first woman to be the vice chancellor of the University of Nairobi

Prof Isaac Meroka Mbeche is a professor in Management Sciences with specialisation in project management, operations management and soft operations research. Born in 1952, Mbeche  served as the principal of the College for Humanities and Social Sciences since 2002 before being appointed to the position that he occupies now. He was appointed to the then newly created position of deputy vice chancellor in charge of Student Affairs in early 2011. His political godfather used to be Simeon Nyachae whose power as far as the current regime is concerned is not as strong but can not be ignored.

Others likely to land this powerful docket include Prof Kiwage, Prof Mwang’ombe, Prof Njeru and Prof Makawiti.
Insiders say those outside the university including foreigners are also applying. One man also said to be eager to have a friendly vice chancellor is deputy president William Ruto. He is an alumni of the university and has been sponsoring various camps in students politics. Journalist Reuben Korir, a former student leader and an ally of Ruto who ran on URP in Langata during 2013 has been his linkman in UON students politics.