Reduce union perks to curb student unrest

By: JOEL REYIA

Election-related violence is increasingly becoming a thorn in the flesh for many institutions of higher learning.

On many occasions, students have gone on the rampage, destroying property worth millions of shillings.

The recent deaths of two Maseno University students should now jolt institutions, the government, and all stakeholders to take concerted efforts to address this challenge.

In the Maseno case, students accused the institution’s management of interfering with the elections. There have been similar sentiments in other universities that have suffered student election violence including Oginga Odinga, Moi University, Kenyatta universities, and the University of Nairobi.

To reverse this worrying trend, I suggest that the numerous benefits enjoyed by student union leaders be reduced. Being a student union leader often comes with a monthly stipend plus many other privileges that are not accessible to the common student.

Apart from wielding considerable power, union leaders are also guaranteed a prestigious political career in future. A number of political higher-ups in the government and the Opposition cut their teeth as student leaders.

The sheer number of candidates who come out each time to contest for the various positions attests to this. Most of them will do just about anything to get the much-coveted positions.

Student governments are expensive outfits to run and it is the students who bear the burden as they must pay a certain amount every semester to go to the running of the unions.

Virtually all student unions draw up obscenely huge budgets. The Kenyatta University Students Association, for example, operates a budget to the tune of Sh25 million semi-annually, according to Mr George Thuku, its outgoing president. The figure is certainly higher at the University of Nairobi.

Scaling down this bloated list of allowances and privileges will no doubt reduce the demand for these positions. Few students will be willing to vie for a seat that will not put them in a position to recoup the fortune they spend on campaigns.

This will also be important in imposing some austerity measures to tertiary institutions, which are grappling with the adverse effects of heavy physical infrastructure spending.

The University of Nairobi is currently reeling under a financial crisis occasioned by huge recurrent expenditure and alleged non-adherence to procurement laws and regulations.

The institutions’s wage bill currently stands at Sh750 million despite the fact that it receives only Sh438 million from the Treasury. The extra Sh312 million has to be acquired through other sources.

So, why allocate a whopping Sh60 million to the Students Organisation of the University of Nairobi every year? Does it need all that money to rally comrades on Waiyaki Way whenever it wants to be heard?

Student union elections should be conducted in a free and fair manner to avoid violent demonstrations and loss of lives and property.

University administrators must keep off elections and allow students to choose their own leaders. The commissions entrusted with running the elections should demonstrate independence, competence, and impartiality.

Unless this happens, any endeavour to decentralise power would be meaningless.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION