By LUKOYE ATWOLI
Sunday Nation 05 April 2009, Page 19
As we reflect on the actions of Kenyatta University students earlier this past week, it is amazing that a cross-section of Kenyans are expressing shock and outrage at the magnitude of destruction witnessed during the riot.
In a country where leaders have openly stated that violence is always one of the earliest options on the table in case of any sort of conflict, it is indeed baffling that whenever the violence is committed by “others”, it is branded barbaric and unacceptable.
However, when we feel outmanoeuvred by our perceived enemies we waste no time claiming “we were left with no choice” but to turn to violence. In the past we have justified the killing of fellow citizens on account of their holding opinions different from our own, or having surnames we consider “wrong”!
It has been argued several times before that this country is full of nauseating hypocrisy and, unless we end the charades and embark on the hard work of building a civilized society, we shall continue suffering these periodic convulsions of violence.
The events at Kenyatta University are deplorable, whatever angle one looks at them, and none of them are excusable for whatever reason.
Beginning with the university administration, claims that they were pressurising lecturers to alter examinations raise issues about the quality of the graduates and academic independence, a key ingredient in any “world-class” institution of higher learning.
If those claims are true, then the university has no claim to any sort of respect as a premier facility on the continent. Its standards would be lower than those expected of a village polytechnic.
The university’s perceived inflexibility in dealing with student grievances is also an indictment of its flawed management practices.
Insisting on a straight and narrow interpretation of university statutes stifles honest engagement and foments the sort of festering feelings of resentment that are wont to erupt in periodic violence.
Reports of police brutality, with fatal shootings and allegations of sexual harassment, do not do much to improve the already battered image of the police force. A lot of restraint was needed in dealing with rioting students, especially due to the fact that most of the action took place at night and the police entered the student hostels.
The operation should have been led by a senior officer to ensure that the men remained under control and no live ammunition was used on the students.
The students themselves do not escape blame. Indeed, one could argue that the greatest weight of responsibility lies with them.
No matter what sort of grievances they were out to express, destroying property at the same university would not help them in any way. As a result of their actions, they will waste a lot of time out of campus and, when they do report back, they will definitely be slapped with a huge repair bill for the damage they left behind.
The violence and destruction of property at the university alienates the students from the majority of Kenyans who may have identified with their cause.
The lingering images in the eyes of the public are of burning hostels and offices, and students shouting unintelligible slogans at TV cameras.
Coming so soon after the demonstration by University of Nairobi students which turned into a looting orgy, this riot at Kenyatta University has lowered the reputation of the modern university student inestimably in the eyes of the public.
It will take a long time and sustained effort to rebuild this reputation and, for a long time, many employers will be looking at the graduates of these universities with a jaundiced eye.
The biggest hypocrites of all, in my opinion, are the politicians who took to soapboxes in their rural homes to condemn the actions of the university students, with some even exclaiming that nothing is beyond negotiation.
This they uttered with a straight face a few days after indicating that some things are non-negotiable, including the National Accord that set up the Grand Coalition government!
It is time to acknowledge that we are a failing state, if indeed we have not completely failed as it were. We must retrace our footsteps and find out what went wrong with our idea of morality and personal responsibility.
When did we become a nation of juvenile whiners who only see things from their own perspective, and are ready to go to any lengths (including murder, plunder and rape) to get what we want?
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine. firstname.lastname@example.org