Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Truth behind the Sour Relations between Maseno University and the Community

Maseno University students early this week went on a rampage protesting against the theft of their belongings. The theft cases have mostly affected the students who rented rooms in the neighbouring community after missing the accommodation within the university halls of residence. This comes on the background of another strike that was staged last year where the students were angered by the rape and theft cases that they alleged were perpetrated by the members of the community. They destroyed properties and even lynched the some of the suspects who were not so lucky and didn’t manage to escape from the students’ wrath. 

Maseno University is among the many universities located in rural areas like Moi University and Egerton University which are located deep in the village and they seem to have a cordial relationship with the surrounding community. Strike in Kenyan universities is not something out of the ordinary. However, the last two strikes in Maseno University are of special interest. The riots that occurred in Maseno bring to fore sour relations between the university and the community members dominated by the Abanyore- a sub tribe in the Luhya community. Things become worse when Maseno increased the number of students admitted to the university to around 3000 as opposed to 1000 that they have been admitting before forcing them to transfer some students to the Kisumu Campus while others sought for private accommodation in the surrounding neighbourhood as they were hit with accommodation crisis. The increase in number of students living in the surrounding community increased significantly and they became targets of the thieves living in the community.

The rampage was just a culmination of several issues underlying the relations between the university and the community members. First, there is the issue of land. Apparently, word on the ground has it that the community members are claiming that the university took their land. Conversely, those privy to the issue say that the university had paid the concerned community members before taking up the land for development. The land in fact was bought long ago from their fore fathers even before the dissenting youths were born or were too young to make sense of anything. 

Secondly, the community members have accused the University of discrimination when it comes to hiring. Majority of the staff at the university are predominantly from the Luo community. This has not gone down well with the Abanyore community who feel they have been left out in hiring. This has made them hostile towards the university and everything that comes with it.

Thirdly, there is the contention of location of Maseno Shopping center. The Abanyore community believes that Maseno shopping center is located in the former Western province and as such they are entitled to full benefits (read as job opportunities) that come with it. However, this is not surprising as it seems to be the trend across the country where the community views public institutions in their locality as their own property rather than national institution that belongs to all Kenyans. For instance, we heard people from coast claiming ownership of port of Mombasa and demand that the jobs available be given the natives from the region only.  The controversy about location of Maseno at one time affected the academic giants, Maseno High School, who refused to take part in activities of Kisumu District claiming that they are in Western province. Nonetheless, according to the map Maseno shopping center is actually in Kisumu North District, Kisumu County. 

Apart form the underlying factors highlighted above, the relations between Maseno University the community has been further complicated by the challenge of unemployment and the poverty which seems to have fueled increase in theft cases in the area. The university can only take so much and does not have the ability to employ the whole community. Nevertheless, the establishment of the university in the area opened up opportunities for the locals owing to the huge population of students which in the eyes of business people is a huge market. The university created opportunities in Hotel business given that the students are forbidden from cooking in hostels, retail shops, and bodaboda for ferrying the students across the two campuses; Siriba and College campus which are quite a distance apart. There is an urgent need for the Maseno University to engage the community members and try to address the concerns raised.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

State of the Media in Kenya: Has the Kenyan Media Become Complacent?

The Kenyan media have become complacent and are failing to play its watchdog role. Nowadays they don’t focus with zeal on government misdeeds. They are ‘wasting’ the considerable Press freedom that has been accorded to them.

The media remains one of the most powerful entities in any given country. Their power lies in the ability to greatly influence public opinion towards a given issue or subject through use of mass media. They play a watchdog role; exposing corruption, poor governance and all sorts of malpractices or societal ills. Basically, while they pursue their business interests, they should also act on the concern of the public. In some countries, however, their power has been greatly curtailed by dictators who crush to ash any media that is criticizes the government.
The Kenyan media has come a long way, survived the dark ages and are now enjoying considerable freedom as espoused in the constitution. They are among the lucky few who enjoy the elusive virtue in the African continent ranked at 14th position in Africa and 71 in the world by Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2013. However, in the recent times, the Kenyan media seem to have lost their quest in fighting for public good; pro bono. They have relaxed and are contented with the profits they make from the business.
The period 2003-2007 saw the media keep the government in check and quite often, we could hear reports on schemes in government to empty the public coffers ranging from Triton Scandal to Anglo-Leasing Scandal. The media exposed the greedy politicians who fleeced the publics the hard earned tax. In 2007 general elections, they helped expose wide election malpractices which unfortunately did end up in violence that saw slightly over 1000 people lose their lives. The media did not escape the blame despite the fact they that they played their role as watchdog and information disseminators.
This was the turning point for the Kenyan media. The media become passive in their watchdog role which was further complicated by a raft of legislations that sought to clip their muscle. One of the notable legislation was the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008.Also known as the “ICT Bill”, the new legislation provides for heavy fines and prison sentences for press offences. It also gives the government, above all the information and interior ministries, authority over the issuing of broadcast licences and the production and content of news programmes. The resistance to the law was unsuccessful as the government of the day remained adamant and the then President H.E Mwai Kibaki signed it into law. The media has been advocating for self-regulation while the government wants direct control.
Perhaps the biggest let down by the media was during the 2013 general elections. They failed to scrutinize the election process which had grave electoral malpractices. They, instead, chose to turn a blind eye to the evil taking place during the election period. The public had nowhere to express their opinion since the only savior had become complacent. All they did was to gag the public with multiple peace messages yet they failed to focus on the real issues that could have resulted to peace destabilization. It did not occur to them that justice begets peace and that absence of war does not translate to peace. People were merely pretending and trying to tolerate each other in the wake of divergent opinion on how the elections were conducted.
 After the elections, the media went ahead to tell the public to accept the results as they are and move on. This was the worst part of their complacency. They never cared about the issues raised by the now opposition party that were critical and warranted attention. Meanwhile, the social media was the new battle ground as supporters of the two coalitions exchanged harsh words maligned with lots of bile yet the media was happy that they have successfully maintained peace. This is far from the truth and the truth is that the latent hate still exists and as a matter of fact we are actually sitting on a time bomb that will explode in the future if the issues of equality and justice are not fully redressed.
Back to the media focus, we have been able to witness a number of issues that has besieged the new government for instance, the biased public appointments, security lapse, and corruption among others. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) scandal that saw wastage of public money was not number one news item but was 6th news item in one of the local TV stations. Can one relate the current cold blow by the media to the breakfast meeting they had with the government?