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.