I have been following the discussion (read: shouting matches and shadow boxing) about the Moi University Vice Chancellor stand off and so far it is an awesome kind of thriller or just call it a soap opera that has just hit the top of the charts.
The discussion as is always the case whenever politicians throw their spanner into works, has turn to tribal song of it is ours and it is our turn to eat.
But where did the rain start beating the Kenya’s officially first university? (It was the first university to be set up by an act parliament). The year is 2006. Then I were a fresher at Chepkoilel Campus (Now University of Eldoret). It is towards the end of ’06 when Prof. Richard Mibey took over the reins of Moi University. Chep as we called was the oldest and largest campus of Moi Uni after main campus. Its principal was Prof. John Lonyangapuo, now the West Pokot senator.
The appointment of my namesake is one process that was overshadowed by controversy which was pushed under the carpet only to resurface a decade later on. The two persons named above will always remain written in the history of the university forever when the race for VC comes up. I will try to tell you why.
But before you go on, let me remind you, am composing this article as a journalist. Am trying my best not to include the “voice of my tribe” or the comrade voice of which I have been a student twice in this university. Therefore my voice is that a fly on the wall. Journalists you know what I mean.
When the sunset days of one Prof. Some as VC were near, all eyes were set on the varsity and particularly the who will succeed him. Among the top contenders or earmarked successors were Prof. Lonyangapuo (then Principal Chepkoilel Campus) and Prof. Margaret Kamar (Then DVC Academics, Research and Extension).
For your information, Prof. Kamar had been at one time principal of Chepkoilel Campus. Her leadership at Chep was cut short by students who ejected her from office on allegations of high handedness and arrogance. She was driven in a lorry by students to Eldoret Town where she was bid goodbye to go back to Moi Uni main campus and seek redeployment to another office.
Ironical how the students sent her to main campus instead of her home that is located at Kuinet about 2KM from Chep.
An Egerton University graduate and the first Pokot to earn a PhD, Prof. Lonyangapuo was what students, staff and community of Chep referred to as not only a father but a big brother and friend. He is one guy who would interact with anyone personally. It did not matter you were a professor, student (fresha) or the casual worker cleaning the washrooms. He was a defender of the lowly. This may have been because of his upbringing.
I recall at one time a guy named Kobil wrote a poem about him using his name acronym, J.O.H.N.L.O.N.Y.A.N.G.A.P.U.O at the start of each stanza. Kobil was a harsh critic of the university administration, but a very great buddy of the professor.
But why did I brought the two names up? This is just to give a brief background of the two dons who would later on delve into politics and as things stand may never go back to impart academic knowledge in Moi University.
As it emerged later on of what happened during the interviews at that time for the VCs post, the two were favorites for the job. I say favorites not necessarily the leading candidates. Compare that with the now Kosgey fiasco. The Nandi and Kipsigis politics came into play and the two were considered “outsiders”. If you have been a student or staff in the two campus (Chep and Moi) you understand the sibling rivalries between the Nandi and Kipsigis. A compromise had to be adopted.
The compromise was in one man son of the lake as the name Mibey loosely translated from Kalenjin mean. Prof. Mibey was a DVC in Maseno University (a former campus of Moi University).
As the information will later on ‘leak out’, Prof. Lonyangapuo had floored the rest but his appointment would have created more discomfort in the two major Kalenjin sub tribes of Nandi and Kipsigis. Now the two subtribes who are rivals had come together to reject a minority, a pokot, to ‘rule them’.
But then Minister for Education the late Prof. George Saitoti was pushed to a tight corner to dissolve the feud by appointing Prof. Mibey.
The same politics played out in the succession of Lonyangapuo at Chep. Dr. Bittok had to remain acting principal for around a year before a compromise principal was named. The compromise was Prof. Khaemba. You can see how the Luhya vs Kalenjin feud at Chepkoilel was fueled nearly a decade ago. The current VC at University of Eldoret is just a victim of such circumstances of compromise appointments. She has had her share of opposition from the local politicians. Read politicians, not residents, not Kalenjins, just politicians.
Such is the battle that Matiang’i finds himself in. He is a – Johny come late – fire fighter who is likely to be a casualty. The rot began a long time ago. Prof. Some is quoted to have declared that, “Moi University is a public asset and not a tribe’s private property.” The now Commission for Higher Education boss had had enough of chants of ‘our university’. I hope he is now watching everything on the sidelines, sipping hot coffee in a seventh floor office, smiling at the telly as the breaking news pour in from Kesses.
The fight that began in the boardroom as Prof. some was leaving is now played on the streets as the politicians drawn from Kalenjin community use the position to lure voters.
Commentators, many of whom see the issue from the tribal angle make the matters even worse. Now it has generated to tribal clashes over the internet.
Lest we forget the 2007/08 clashes that saw Chepkoilel students residing outside the lose property through arson, we will repeat the same thinking we are defending our tribes but in real sense we are protecting the political elite interests. After the clashes of 2007/08 elections, the then chancellor of Moi University Prof. Bethwell Ogot began a tour of the various campuses in the spirit of reconciliation and assuring the students and staff of their safety.
Prof. Ogot came to Chep accompanied by the newly ‘appointed’ VC Prof. Mibey whom he introduced as his former student at Kapsabet Boys and also at the graduate level. The members of the community led by one Mzee Kibor also attended the Kamukunji. Mzee Kibor (his home is a kilometre from Chep), as many would recall is one controversial old man who speaks his mind no matter the situation or who is around. He had earlier been arrested at the peak of the violence that rocked the area.
Mzee Kibor spoke on behalf of the community and praised the leadership of the campus whom he termed as accommodative and decent. He went further and pointed out that because of this kindness towards the community, no property of the university was burnt down or vandalised.
True to his words, no property of the university was touched. In attendance in the Kamukunji was Uasin Gishu District Commissioner.
When his time came to give his speech, Prof. Ogot summarised it all in his first word he uttered. He said,
“You wasted an opportunity Mzee, you should have burnt down this structures. Why did you leave it standing?”
Ogot went on to tell Kibor that if they could have burnt down the campus, him (Ogot) and Mibey would have lost nothing. The big losers would have been the local community who contribute to a bulk of casual employees. He said that apart from from the casual employees, the PSSP students (who are majorly from host community) will lose out. The government will redeploy its permanent staff to other campus including the government sponsored students.
For him (Ogot), he would retire silently in Bondo and write memoirs under the shade of a tree in his homestead which he has missed for a long time. The old professor is doing exactly that. He even revealed that he yearns to have a university in Siaya so that ‘his people’ could also have a chance to eat from the institution like their Nilotic siblings of Uasin Gishu.
The above excerpt from the speech of the old professor is still fresh in my mind as I see politicians “radicalising” their electorate to demand for control of Moi University, a national government institution.
Near the same statements have been written down by my journalism don, Dr. Omanga Dan Mainye in his weekly column in the Daily Nation Newspaper. He has wrote a number of articles on influence of politics in ethnicizing the higher education management in our country.
To my folks this is a time bomb. It is not a Matiang’i against Kalenjin thing, it began long time ago and now the safety pin has been pulled off. We do not know the next institution that will be stormed by politicians.
DISCLAIMER: One day I will gather my villagers and match to Dr. Maurice Dang’ana Secondary School and demand for one of our own to be the principal. Outsiders have been ignoring ‘us’ for a long time. Hiyo ni shule yetu.
Written By Richard Sarati