The University of Nairobi, Kenya’s largest and oldest institution of higher learning, has been shut indefinitely following student unrest over allegations of police brutality.
The closure was announced on 3 October by the university’s Director of Corporate Affairs John Orindi, who said the decision was taken by the Senate due to security concerns. He said details on the reopening of the institution would be forthcoming.
Students from the university planned to march in the city of Nairobi last Monday to protest against what they claimed was the use of excessive force and sexual harassment on the part of police at the universities of Nairobi and Maseno during an earlier round of protest action.
Video clips emerged on both social and mainstream media showing policemen using batons and whips on helpless students who had surrendered by lying on the ground.
Addressing a press conference last week, the University of Nairobi’s Vice-chancellor, Professor Peter Mbithi, confirmed that several students had been injured during protests held on Thursday, the previous week, over the detention of Babu Owino, the former chair of the student governing council.
Arrest of former student leader
Owino, who is currently a member of parliament representing the Embakasi East constituency, had been arrested by the police for allegedly dishonouring the Presidency.
The vice-chancellor denied allegations that one student had died. However, he confirmed that at least 27 students were injured and were undergoing treatment with some having already been discharged from hospitals.
During the second round of protests on Monday night, students blocked sections of roads around the university before police dispersed them, firing gunshots in the air. This was also followed by the torching of the institution’s security offices, with fire fighters unable to get to the scene in time due to road blocks mounted by students.
There were scores of protests reported in the institution’s Lower Kabete Campus with nearby roads being closed, forcing motorists to seek alternative routes.
Some of the students who held demonstrations early on Tuesday morning demanded the resignation of Mbithi after he defended the presence of police on campus. He told the media the institution had invited the police to help beef up security during the protests because some criminals had taken advantage of the situation and had invaded the university’s premises.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Fred Matiang’i, said that he was investigating the allegations of excessive force. Matiang’i, who doubles up in the security docket, cast doubts on the veracity of videos circulating on social media showing policemen clobbering students and smoking them out of lecture halls and hostels using tear gas.
The cabinet secretary said he would await the report of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, or IPOA, before taking action.
Some of the students who spoke to University World News said they were angered by the defence of the police’s actions on the part of the vice-chancellor and the inspector general of police.
“We are not criminals as they allege. We are students and we were demonstrating peacefully,” said Oliver Welombo, a law student at the institution’s Parklands Campus.
Welombo said that it was disheartening that their quest for education had been halted because of a problem that could be solved amicably, involving all the stakeholders. “As a final-year student, I don’t want to spend more years here; I want to graduate and start contributing to the growth of this nation,” he said.
Meanwhile, IPOA Chief Executive Officer Joel Mabonga issued a press statement hours after the closure of the university, asking students who were injured during the protests to record statements with the police before going home.