FIRST KABUTU, NOW MOSI. ARE YOU NEXT?

Yesterday I looked up the definition of bail in kenyaplex.com. Basically, the concept of bail is simple: Accused persons deposit money with the court which they forfeit if they fail to show up for trial at the agreed date and time. If the accused follows all the requirements of the court, he is refunded his money at the end of trial. This practice was founded upon the need to protect the liberty of a person who has not yet been found guilty. Instead of keeping a potentially innocent person in remand awaiting trial, they can live their life until the judge finds them either guilty or innocent. Universities should adopt a similar method instead of suspending students who are suspected of wrongdoing before they are proven guilty. Where are we going with this? There is a rumour around on social media that the chairperson to the student organization, George Mosi, has been discontinued on academic grounds.
Mosi is a 4th year, BSc. Mechatronics Eng., student and so the rules used in the school of engineering apply to him. According to these rules, failing eight units in one academic year amounts to a discontinuation. Even if you fail four the first semester and another four the second, you still get discontinued. But we are still in the second semester of this academic year, therefore, Mosi has to have failed all units last semester to be discontinued. Discounting the fact the he is a hard worker, it is still hard to imagine a person of Mosi’s intellect failing eight units in one semester. When the VC was awarding the best performing students last semester, Mosi was among those honoured. That’s why something is amiss here. How can you go from being a top performer, in a class where everyone is a bright student, to getting eight E’s out of eight units? Further, he might have feared being targeted which would have made him worker extra harder. How did he still end up with eight fails?
It’s probable that Mosi did not get all those E’s. That’s to say, he might have been failed because of not attending the requisite 80% of lecures (Did you also think it’s a third of the lectures?). Regulations say that attendance of lectures is part of the course. Therefore, if you get an A in a certain unit then it turns out you missed lectures, you will still fail that unit. Mosi and a few other students were suspended for a good part of last semester while they were being investigated, under allegations that they perpetrated last year’s strike. Some of them had different cases altogether. Although most of them managed to avoid a yearlong suspension or longer, they had already missed quite a few lectures. Understand that under those circumstances you cannot attend a lecture for five minutes, sign your name then leave; you are not supposed to be anywhere within the university. Therefore, any such signature, even signed by a friend would only put you in more jeopardy with the university during your disciplinary hearing or later when someone realizes you were “attending” lectures while suspended. So if the committee took a month or two to rule on any of their cases, the affected student had to miss all those lectures. At that point, his/her attendance record has already been compromised.
While these rumours are not entirely unfounded, they might turn out to be completely false. Judging from the quality of the websites owned by DEKUT, it is easy to conclude that the university has a long way to go before the ‘T’ in DEKUT has any real meaning. At one time or the other, almost every student has been frustrated trying to navigate through the website. And the problems are new each day you try to access the website again. Right now, almost every 3rd year student in Mechatronics has nothing but E’s in all the eight units they did last semester. That’s according to the examination results posted at the online student portal. Maybe there is a similar problem with the 4th year Mechatronics examination results. Because of his history with the administration, Mosi might have assumed that the eight E’s were his actual results. There is a saying in Kiswahili: aliyeumwa na nyoka, akiona ukanda hushtuka. We may not know the truth until we resume on Monday, 11th November.
The best thing to do right now is to wait for some kind of official confirmation, either from the university or from Mosi. But if indeed Mosi is discontinued, then he cannot address anyone in an official capacity anymore because the chairperson to DEKUTSO has to be a student of Dedan Kimathi University of Technology. Being discontinued automatically takes away that status thus disqualifying him from being our chairperson. If you know what’s good for you, pray that this turns out to be nothing more than a bad rumour. Otherwise, just in case it turns out to be true, meditate on another Swahili saying in the meantime: ukiona cha mwenzio cha nyolewa, chako kitie maji.

DEAR DEATH

Whose messenger are you Grim Reaper?
And what is it that you whisper
To all souls, both young and old?
How do you turn them bold
Enough to risk the unknown?

Who sent you, heaven or hell?
With which message that all receive well,
And forget dear ones, even daughters and sons,
Leaving half-done projects and novel plans,
And decide today’s was their last dawn?

Whence do you come, dear friend,
(Friend? Yes, if only briefly at the end.)
When you come to deny one a tomorrow
and upon a lifeless body deliver sorrow,
do you think of the tears of the bereaved?

Pray do tell, what fuels your tenacity
to roam the world’s ends, village to city,
and without bias take each at their time
be they rich or surviving sans any dime?
In whose ingenious mind were you contrived?

THE ONE FOR YOU

Can you feel, without touching,
that his skin is full of scars?
Can you see, without looking,
that his eyes are full of fear?
Do you hear, without listening,
that his voice is a weary whisper?
Would you know, without asking,
that his was a difficult past?
Can you say, without speaking,
that you understand who he is?
Do you believe, without seeing,
that his heart beats only for you?

Now touch and feel, the scars,
which made him the man he is.
Look and see, deep in his eyes,
his fear that he might lose you.
Listen and hear, his hoarse voice,
that begs you for a chance.
Ask and he’ll tell you of a past
that brought him to you.
Then when you understand
that he’s meant for you,
say nothing, words mean little,
but with a warm, soft kiss,
give him a promise of love.
Show him that you believe
he is the one for you.

500/- FOR DAMAGES: IS OUR UNIVERSITY BROKE?

11th November, 2013. That’s the date you are supposed to report back to school with a deposit slip of 500/-, plus any other fee balance you have, in hand. In their own wisdom, and after many deliberations, during which you waited to be informed of the reporting date, the senate concluded that the damage caused during the riots was worth 500/- per student. With a population ranging between 5,000 and 7,000 students in the main campus, that comes to a total of between 2.5m and 3.5m. Without even bothering to establish a numerical estimate of the actual damage, you can see that someone is taking advantage. Or are they? I think we are all missing a point here, a very crucial point.
The major complaint I hear from comrades at DeKUT is that the admin does not realize that the students are the integral part of Kimathi university, that without them DeKUT is not a university anymore. Well, here comes the shocker, we, the students, are Kimathi university. I know you are thinking: “I already knew that”. Yes you did, but you might have missed what that means. It means that when Kimathi university gets buried in financial obligations, such obligations will trickle down to you in one way or another. A good example is what you are seeing now, 500/- per student for a damage that will probably cost less than 100,000/-, materials and labour included, to fix. Adding the cost of the food that was wasted in the mess and the staff canteen, and any other miscellaneous losses, the actual amount needed might turn out to be no more than 250, 000/-. But a university, like any business, needs to turn up revenue, otherwise it might go bankrupt.
Where does the university get its money? Government allocations and school fees must make the bulk of its income. Above that, we have local projects that generate revenue. Notably, farming is at the fore of income generating projects, with coffee being the main cash crop. The horticultural farms produce vegetables which are sold to both the staff and students alike. You might even have bought the pork from the pigs which are slaughtered sometimes. It may not raise much but it’s an ingenious way to raise money, maybe the university should think of doing the same on a large scale. Another source of revenue is the conservancy, although it is far from reaching its potential at the moment. One day, I expect it will be attracting quite a crowd of local tourists. Some people believe that the llama might be the next beast of burden in Kenya, replacing the donkey. Guess who has a head start breeding llamas! Kimathi university. That might be useful someday. Other universities, e.g. JKUAT and Strathmore, get funding from corporate partners. In JKUAT, Safaricom has provided an ICT centre to carry out research related to mobile telephony; in Strathmore, well, their tech centre is mind blowing, to say the least. I received a guided tour during a conference I had attended, and the scope of their research and innovation is like nothing I had ever imagined. All that is funded by corporate partners and sponsors; in one of their labs, each piece of computer hardware was provided by Samsung. Who are our partners? Maybe you can tell me because I do not know any.
If the university has all these sources of income, why then does it still want the 500/- most of us can ill afford to pay? Too much money is not enough money. If it were, Bill Gates would have quit Microsoft already. DeKUT has a lot of expenses – research, development projects, labour, overheads, etc. So even though there might actually be quite a huge amount of money at its disposal right now, most of it is budgeted for and more is needed. Therefore, at the end of the day, the university has to raise more money. That is why an opportunity like this cannot be left to pass; we gave the university a chance to charge us, and they have. The question remains: What do they intend to do with the extra money? Maybe it will be used to improve one of the numerous things students are always complaining about; but again we will probably never know where any of it went. As a student, however, you have a responsibility to follow up on its use.
I wish universities were like public companies which have to gazette their annual returns. That kind of financial transparency would be quite helpful in helping us understand why some things take forever to get done around here. Why do we have such a tiny student centre, no gym to speak of, such poor Wi-Fi, shortage of hostels, inadequate academic facilities, and those transport problems? Can it be that the university just does not have the money to improve them? Are we broke? That makes me wonder whether the administration would even be honest enough to tell us if they do not have enough money. There is a bad history of lack of communication from the administrators to the students. On some level, this contributes to the dissatisfaction with the administration that characterizes most students. No one likes being kept in the dark about issues that affect them. Personally, I would like to know why development is slow in our university. Those buildings that take years to complete, is it because money for raw materials or labour is never at hand? That DSTV that goes for weeks before subscription is renewed, is it because we do not have enough money? Maybe someone forgot to include it in the budget.
When I was going home, I thought the charges for damages would be upwards of 1000/- per student. Another friend of mine had psychologically prepared himself for the amount to be 2000/-. The one thing we agreed on was that the charges would be highly out of proportion to the damage, and we have turned out to have been right mostly. Perhaps it could have been better if the university had charged us an even 1000/-. Then the extra two or three millions could have been used to start off construction of any one of the many things we need in Kimathi. We all know what we need: hostels or more buses, a larger or alternate student centre, lecture halls, better internet (cable LAN and wifi), a swimming pool, and you can possibly name more. Now we need to ask ourselves, if the administration clearly proved to you that it has no enough money, would you be willing to add your 500/- to finance these things we need so they can be built faster?

ABANDONED IN DEATH? THE SAD FATE OF MORRIS

The Maori creation myth tells of how Sky and Earth were united as one thing, with everything existing in between them. Their children, who were sandwiched between them, however, wanted to be able to see light and so they separated the two. The pain of separation from his beloved Earth made Sky cry, and his tears fell down as rain. From that day, whenever he misses her, he cries and we get rain. It rained in Nyeri today. It might only be that Sky is missing his lover, or it could be that he is mourning the loss of one of Mother Nature’s sons. Somewhere in Kiritiri, Embu,  Morris will be laid to rest today. Moment of silence please, in honour of his memory and his life, which was so suddenly cut short. May his soul forever rest in eternal peace.
Who is going for the burial? His classmates (BPSM second years) were ready to go. Up until late yesterday, they were sure they were going. Then they received text messages saying that the university would not provide them with transportation. Reasons? The university is closed. It, therefore, cannot provide services to suspended students; the government had also disapproved for security reasons. I can understand that last part about security. I mean, if the residents of Kiritiri are as mad as the students were at the bus park the day Morris was run over, I don’t want to imagine the things the aforementioned residents might do to our university bus, notwithstanding whether it caused the accident. It is that part about suspension and not being able to offer services to students which I do not quite comprehend.
First, neither I nor anyone I know received a letter to tell us that we are suspended. I think the university would have been kind enough to let us know if the reason we are home right now is because we were suspended. The notice that was put up on the notice board said that lectures had been suspended; lectures not students. Therefore, from where I stand, it seems inappropriate to deny Morris’ classmates the chance to go say their final goodbyes. Besides, giving out a bus under these circumstances does not quite qualify as a service to the students. A service is picking students up from their places of residence in the morning or taking them on a tour or trip. This is different, this is welfare. Buses have travelled halfway across the country before, taking students to go offer solidarity to families of deceased students. Correct me if I am wrong but is this not when such solidarity is needed more than ever?
Agreeably, it might be too much of a risk to send our own bus to Embu. However, that is not enough reason for the university to fail to provide welfare services in the form of human presence during the burial. In my opinion, the university should have, at the very least, worked to minimize the inherent risk of this situation, and then go ahead and send a bus. No one is saying that the bus be parked beside the coffin to slowly stroke the mourning congregation’s anger. Actually, the bus does not even need to be parked anywhere near the burial ceremony. It could just have dropped off the students at the nearest safe distance possible and then leave to come pick them up later. Or is there another more complicated security issue at hand that I do not recognize?
Almost too conveniently, there is government bureaucracy behind which the school can hide its true intents and motives. Since when does the government interfere in the operations of the university in this way? In Kenya, universities are established as autonomous institutions – with the ability to enter into contracts, to sue and be sued in a court of law. Comrades from the school of business know that clause better. Anyway, I think that that means the university has powers to act on its own. Under which mandate does the government ‘disapprove’ of a move to transport students for welfare purposes? And which is this government exactly, local or national? Now that the university has denied Morris the presence of his classmates at his burial, maybe it will be benevolent enough to please offer us a clear explanation why. I detest bureaucratic double talk, because usually it means somebody somewhere is apathetic to their responsibility, that he/she does not care enough to do his/her job well, or in a case like this, care enough to fulfill an obligation to a dead student.
The whole of this week, someone sat in an office and left the classmates hoping they would be offered transportation to Embu. Whoever was responsible waited until the last minute to tell us that no bus would be availed for such purposes. Why couldn’t they have spoken earlier so that anyone who wanted to find other means had enough time to do so? The student leadership should show more goodwill that this, hopefully they are not just sitting and letting Morris bury himself. The student elected to the post of community and external affairs is responsible here, I think. The clause that establishes the students’ organization states that ‘the object and purpose of the organization shall be to promote the development, establishment and encouragement of worthy traditions…’ We already have a worthy tradition, that of sending comrades to represent us during the burial of one of our own. Why are we abandoning that tradition now? If you grew up in Africa like I did, then you know that it’s taboo to break valuable traditions. Which is why I really need to understand: Why was a bus not provided to take Morris’ classmates to Kiritiri, Embu?

FOR OUR SAKE, LET’S WORK TOWARDS IMPROVING KIMATHI

Do you remember the hopes you had when you finally learned you were coming to Kimathi university? The expectations and eagerness to explore campus life were limitless. I remember there was that one acceptace form in which one filled in which sport or activity interested them. It had just about every sport played in this country save for bano and kalongolongo. I was so enthusiastic when I ticked swimming as my hobby, I could already imagine myself diving in at the deep end of the cool, blue, highland waters and backstroking to and fro the shallow end. Well, it is okay to dream. That was, however, one of my shortest lived dreams. The moment I set foot in Kimathi, reality hit me so hard that I am still trying to recover, three years later. Was it so bad? Not if you ask the fourth years and fifth years. According to them, we found the university much better than it was when they reported.
As their story goes, once upon a time, RC was connected to the Old Admin blocks by a bushy path, which apparently was also a rendezvous of sorts for young lovers at twilight hours. I guess that’s because there must have been little to do in the evenings by means of recreation. Even laptops were much rarer back in the day, the school itself had only one tiny computer lab. So having a lover nearby came in handy whenever one had too much free time in their hands. Factor in the lack of consistent transportation into town, and Kimathi was a really dreary place. Back then our current VC had an office in the old administration block., the same building housing the old admin computer labs.
If you heard the whole story, you would agree with me that Kimathi has come quite a distance since then. But there is still a long way to go. I believe that somewhere in this world there are universities much worse off than we are. Universities with no basketball court, gym, football pitch, rugby pitch or any of the other amenities we take for granted. However, in our quest to develop as a university, we should forget that those universities even exist. One gets closer to number one by getting ahead of the person in front of them, not by staying in front of the person behind them. The bad news is that we are behind in almost every way you can possibly use to rank this country’s universities. The good news is that we have unlimited number of ways in which we can improve. Point out any one single thing in Kimathi at random and there’s at least one way in which it can be improved. That includes you, but we will talk about self-improvement later not here.
Taking this university to the next level is a lot of work, so where do we start? How about getting a new contractor for any future constructions in the university? I don’t know if you have noticed, but the current one is too damn slow. It is said better slow and sure, and I agree. But this particular contractor is not even sure of anything; do you remember those huge, ugly, gaping cracks in the RC walls? They managed to patch those up. Things seemed fine for a while, until cracks started showing up in the new mess too. It is hard to fathom how a building that is still being furnished can just start cracking on the walls or beams. Is it the quality of raw materials, poor workmanship or plain old carelessness during construction? This could just be my fears speaking, but something might be really wrong here, and it is foolishness for everyone to sit and wait for something serious to occur before taking action.
Things happen in Kimathi which leave us wondering. For example, we already have lectures being conducted in the new RC, the one still under construction. The area is still fenced which, if I remember correctly, used to mean that the enclosed area is a construction zone, where only authorized persons should enter and they should wear protective gear at all times. Of course you are authorized if your timetable says your classes are supposed to be there. Whether or not you are safe is what I do not know. Having worked as a manual labourer in construction sites, I know how little things cause the most damage. I once saw a carelessly placed nail go through someone’s foot Jesus’ crucifixion style, trust me it was not a pretty site. Did the university really not foresee this increased demand for classroom space? I realize that Prof. Kioni is very much aware of this need. Last year, in The Standard newspaper, he told a journalist that the major priority for the university is the construction of classrooms and other academic infrastructure. Can you hurry it up, sir? The new mess is beautiful and spacious, and we are grateful for it. But it is a mess not a classroom block; it has become quite difficult to learn from there, one cannot even hear the lecturer five seats from the front. It is as if there is always noise around, and why not? After all, a mess is more of a recreational area than anything else.
Hopefully, the good professor also identifies internet connectivity as an integral part of academic infrastructure. You will agree with me that we need a larger bandwidth and, even more importantly, a more robust network. There’s no need of having fifty computers in a computer lab when only a handful have internet access. About 70% of the time, when a student is in need of a computer, he/she is also in need of internet. And what is that thing that happens with the Wi-Fi, whereby a yellow warning appears at the signal strength icon and suddenly you are only connected to the network but have no internet access? Argh! I hate these things simply because as a student, I am useless without Google. I don’t have a problem with going to the library and grabbing a good reference material from which I can finish up my assignment. But where are the reference materials? They have all been borrowed and you can never find one when you need it. But our dear beloved Google is always there for us all when needed, omniscient and omnipresent, provided you have internet.
This article was not meant to be exhaustive; there are so many things that need to be improved in our university. All I know is that as long as we keep up our current pace, I will finish my fifth year and leave some things as I found them. That bothers me for a number of reasons, the least of which is not that I genuinely love Kimathi, if only because it will remain to be my university and in about two years will be my Alma Mater. It will always be a part of me. One important lesson I learnt in high school is: You cannot improve anything that you hate. So the first thing for all of us to do is start loving this university, with all its imperfections. After that, let’s all work together to improve it. I am optimistic that all the issues at hand, accommodation, transport, sports and recreational facilities, etc can be solved. It’ll take time and effort, but it’s worth it. Fast forward twenty or thirty years into the future, do you want your teenage kid to know you studied in Kimathi then find it only a little better than it is now? I don’t think so. Therefore, play your part, and if you do not know exactly what your part is, you really need help. Go and ask a friend. Students who fail to both identify and play their part, give incompetent and/or ineffective staff the permission and freedom to continue being incompetent. And then the same students walk around blaming everybody, from the VC through the student congress to the grounds-sweeper, when things don’t go right. Personally, I have always known my part but have been too ‘busy’ (read afraid) to play it. So far I have, without intending, been a part of the problem, but not anymore; henceforth I’ll play my part.
These are the things I want to see improve in Kimathi, you can list yours in the comments section below.