The enactment of the Universities (Amendment) Act, 2016 was gazette and consequently came into force on 13th January 2017. This Act brought a lot of uproar among the universities’ students especially those that are deeply involved in matters political. A prima facie (A face value), look at the Act may just look like just another amendment.
First and foremost, the gazettement of laws in the country has always been seen as a means to let the laws that come into force to be known by the general public but the question that always lingers in my mind; how many of us really follow up the Kenya Gazette? Or rather how many of us at least know that by logging in to kenyalaw.org every Friday, the Gazette section always has new laws that have come into force in that week? I digress, however, the aforementioned statement is really key to understanding why when the election and voting mode changed in the universities there was an uncomfortable kind of situation, many students resulting to blaming the university administration not knowing that it was as a result of the Act!
So this Act amends various sections of the former Universities Act. However, I will seek to concentrate on the provisions that have brought the most discomfort and debate in the circles of political enthusiasts in the Universities. Paragraph 18 of the Act brings the whole controversy in the University politics.
First and foremost, the representation of the students would be referred to as the association comprising of all students of the university. It then goes ahead to give the composition of the members of the students’ governing council. In electing the members of the students’ governing council, two factors shall be taken into consideration that is, the membership shall reflect the national diversity and that they shall be not more than two-thirds of its members being of the same gender.
Another key thing in this law is the fact that the students’ governing council is not voted in by all the students rather by the delegates both female and male delegates who are picked from each faculty. Now the latter statement is the whole bone of contention; how do two delegates in a faculty say the faculties of fine arts determine the decision of a whole population of around 1,000 students? It is equated to us having MCAs go ahead and vote in the president on behalf of the citizens!
This particular provision has been criticized for various reasons; First of all, it disregards universal suffrage. Universal suffrage is a concept that came up in the 19th century means that all the citizens have the right to vote. In democratic states, the government of the day is defined as the government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Secondly, students lose touch with their leaders in that they hardly were involved in voting in the coalitions and as such, they have no attachment whatsoever to the leaders. In fact, the students cannot in any way know who the members of the coalitions are even months after they have been in office. The other side of the coin is that the student leaders lack a sense of belonging amongst the students as they are hardly known. Now the fact that the students are not even recognized brings the whole question of accountability. How do we hold someone we did not even vote for accountable? It becomes difficult and so there lacks accountability in the university politics and so mediocre leadership and self-centred one at that becomes the order of the day.
Now the provision goes ahead to provide for diversity when it comes to the formation of coalitions but does not have the specifications on how many people per tribe. This then brings the leeway for the politicians to manipulate the provision in a way that will suit them. Therefore one can have half from one tribe and the other half shared among the remaining tribes.
The provision has been said to be positive in that it enables the politics in campus to being peaceful and more objective since not all the students participate in voting in the leaders but the question becomes; should we sacrifice democracy and universal suffrage for peace?