September, 2012; I walked into the University of Nairobi pregnant with expectations and high hopes upon being admitted into the ‘world-class’ university. These expectations were however shattered before they could even take root as I arrived at the college that I had been enrolled into. The famous College of Architecture A.D.D Building that churns out dozens of Architecture, Quantity Surveying, Planning, Design and Real Estate students was nothing near what I had envisioned. The building looked like it had been lifted from a 1960’s landscape; not an element of it befitted its caliber as a school that produced the best designers and architects of this country.
Although my expectations had been dampened immensely, I sought to inspire myself with the “don’t judge a book by its cover” adage. I was to realize just how wrong I had been as I settled down into my new school; the hostels were nowhere near ‘world class’. Most high school dorms would easily beat the UoN hostels. One needs not have an eye for detail to notice that the buildings have never been renovated let alone upgraded since their inception and construction in the 1970’s and 80’s. Little, if nothing, has changed in the rooms. Numerous leaking taps and blocked water closets are the norm. The few sinks are clogged and the showers are not a sight to behold. Yet, I was supposed to count myself lucky to have acquired a room in the ‘good’ hostels. Other comrades live in worse conditions, with thousands missing out on rooms.
The male first year students live in wooden prefabricated hostels, a temporary measure that was taken due to an influx of student population as a result of a double intake in the early years. Almost 25 years down the line, the ‘temporary structures’ are still standing. With broken windows, dark corridors and wooden exterior; these shackles could easily pass for barn yards in the countryside if one did not have knowledge of their use as university hostels. The wooden houses cover a huge tract of land that would easily provide enough space for the construction of modern hostels to house thousands of students were they to be demolished.
At this juncture, one wonders how a university of such high ranking would subject its students to such hostile living facilities. Is it the lack of resources to develop its infrastructure? I think not.
The adverse characteristics do not stop there. The university has had a fair share of negative publicity for the rampant student strikes that result in looting and destruction of innocent motororists’ property along State House road. Although some of the complaints cited by the students during these strikes are very genuine, majority are just trivial issues championed by a fraction of university students led by ‘goons’. These ‘goons’ are infamous for causing chaos and unnecessary commotion within the university. They are perpetrators of violence and ill deeds who seem to get away with all their vices without a single action being taken against them by the university authorities. Just recently, the goon issue was brought to light after they disrupted the live recording of a program aired by a local TV station demanding payment for use of the university ground. Never mind the fact that all necessary procedures to allow the media house to make use of the university had been followed.
This is not the first time that such an event has occurred, yet surprisingly, the culprits are never brought to book. More often than not, they work in cohorts with the leaders of the student organization body (SONU) that is supposed to champion for the rights of students and their welfare. However, SONU is a far cry from what it was created to do, corruption and scandal mar its very existence as the student leaders elected are caught up in shady deals to benefit none other than themselves. Funds supposed to be reserved for student activities mysteriously disappear and no audit is done; others are wise enough to create ghost events that are generously funded by the students’ kitty. Securing financial aid and scholarships for genuinely needy students in the university is a nightmare in itself. The days where SONU prided itself in genuine and reformist leaders are long gone.
Corruption and neglect cloud the image of the University, the infrastructure and facilities all need a serious facelift. Being the largest public university in Kenya, a lot is expected from it as it is a mirror of higher education learning in the country.
Sadly, the University of Nairobi that was a force to reckon with back in the day is fast losing its glory. If something is not done, the bright history that is associated with the first university in the country will amount to nothing and the future generations might find a redundant university that can no longer meet their learning requirements.