Irene Kendi, Student Organization Nairobi University (SONU) Vice-Chair, is not your typical student leader. In spite of being a wife and a mother of a six year old, the UoN student is a vocal women rights activist within the University of Nairobi and beyond. Her efforts of advocating for students rights have seen her voted as the most outstanding student leader in Africa. Kendi was recognized by the All-Africa Students Union (AASU) at the 4th summit held in Ghana.
“The organizers felt that I have done tremendously well, both for university students and in the community. I was extremely humbled and excited with equal measure. I didn’t know I could win such an award. I never knew that my work could be recognized internationally. This was the best thing to happen to me this year. I wish to use this influence to advocate for the rights of women and youths across Africa,” said Kendi. So who exactly is Kendi? We get to know more about this Module 2 (parallel) student who has gone against the grain to navigate and rise to the top of student politics.
Who is Mama Yao?
University of Nairobi and students call me Mama Yao because of the way I advocate for their rights at the University. I don’t allow the university to manipulate students’ rights. I am very disciplined and act as a role model to thousands of students. I love both my son and the Dad. I gave birth to him not by accident but I was ready for him. I got married in 2006 and gave birth in 2008. I came from a humble background, brought up by a single mother who didn’t have a job. I got a B in High School and couldn’t join Campus. My boyfriend was my childhood friend and decided to marry me. He supported me to start Businesses and still pays my school fees.
What is your position?
I am the vice president of SONU and deputize the chairman in his absence. I am in charge of resource mobilization for SONU and support special needs students such as those who are disabled. I also chair meetings in the absence of the Chairman. I am also in charge of the University Security.
During your tenure at SONU the number of riots has increased? No, there are no riots at the University of Nairobi. What you here in the media are propagandists. Students just exercise their democratic rights. When it comes to looting, students don’t steal. It’s thugs who come from Uhuru Park to loot from motorists. Students are free to demonstrate and exercise their rights as enshrined in the constitution
You have said that one Halls Officer sleeps with students Yes. He has over 30 girlfriends in the University. He cheats the naïve freshmen with rooms then sleeps with them. This is a war that I am fighting. I will eliminate such a behavior. Just because one is in a position does not give them the right to sleep with needy students.
Tell us about your achievements at SONU
I have tried to reach out to many students concerning security and you can see that security has improved. I have brought female students together and activated male and female peer counselors who reach out to them. I have eliminated the culture of goon-ship by talking to them. They take me as a mother, friend and a leader. They say I am their sister.
What do you want to achieve at SONU
That no one intimidates any woman at the University of Nairobi and live as brother and sisters. I want a University where students know their rights and exercise them with no fear at all. Every Woman will be respected.
What do you take of the recent rape cases at the University?
It was uncouth and barbaric activity for a student to rape another. I was out of the country but when I heard about the news I felt sad. We hope the courts rule in favor of the girl or else we will take the next steps.
If you were the president what would you do different?
What I would do that is different is to make sure that youths get more opportunities than they get. The President of Ghana every year brings all students leaders and talks to them and involves them in decision making. That is what I will do.
Are you considering running for any elective post in future? I have what it takes to be a leader. Politics is in my blood and when 2017 comes I must be on the ballot for a bigger post. I can’t go for county rep because it is a small position for me. I want a big post that can enable me to defend women everywhere in Africa. My passion is to save and defend young people and women.
You said you have an award for the President…..
Yes. We have an amazing award for the president. We came with it from Ghana and we are looking at taking it to him. We have a great president but the cartels who surround are the ones who perpetuate the culture of impunity in this country
Which Political Party do you belong to?
If there is a party that advocates for the rights of the women and youths, then I belong to that political party.
Do you support the referendum?
No I don’t. Most people who are advocating for the referendum have their own personal interests which don’t reflect those of Kenyans. Let us concentrate on developing this Nation.
What do you wish to tell the nation?
My advice to the youth of this nation is that they should remain calm and not be misused by politicians. Let us work towards achieving our goals and dreams so that we can take this nation to a higher level. Let us embrace the culture of peace in this country and protect one another.