How Uasin Gishu officials promised students heaven, but delivered hell

A parent affected in the messy Uasin Gishu Overseas Education program in tears during a protest at the governor's office

A parent affected in the messy Uasin Gishu Overseas Education program in tears during a protest at the governor's Kapseret sub-county office on Monday July 10, 2023. They are demanding a full refund of money paid towards the study programme in Finland and Canada after their children failed to travel.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • 125 students from Uasin Gishu paid millions through the county government to secure their study abroad, but the dream came to naught
  • The county government has been accused of failing to remit fees to universities abroad, leaving applicants stranded
  • Angry parents and students from the county are demanding a refund, but the county government says it is impossible as the account is dry
  • Governor Jonathan Bii on Tuesday passed the buck to his predecessor Jackson Mandago; says Sh32.7million is missing

On June 29, 2023, Ms Janeth Koech posted a chilling message on her social media page, ostensibly to say goodbye to her parents and friends. 

In her message, the 25-year-old mother of two said she was going to end her life and blamed the Uasin Gishu County government.

It had failed her, she wrote, and she had run out of patience and could no longer wait for the study airlift programme to materialise.

"Depression is extreme mental pain ... it makes you feel worthless, alone and the option can be death. I paid money to the Uasin Gishu County Government thinking I would soon have a greener pasture in Finland or Canada, but now I am depressed, left with nothing, just at home suffering with parents who sold land and cows and held a harambee to raise the funds," she had written.

"It's been a year now but no plans, and despite asking for a refund, there is no communication from the county. I have no hope in life anymore. Governor Jonathan Bii, Deputy Governor John Barorot, our able MPs and county assembly members, have mercy on the citizens of Uasin Gishu."

Fortunately, she did not carry out the suicide plan implied in the bitter farewell message, and was able to tell her story.

Shattered dreams

Ms Koech is one of 125 students from Uasin Gishu whose dream of studying abroad was shattered by some individuals in the county government who collected money from prospective students for tuition fees, travel and living expenses, but never delivered on their promise.

Janeth Koech from Ziwa failed to travel abroad under the Uasin Gishu Overseas Education programme and wrote a suicide

A social media post on July 11, 2023 by Janeth Koech Sirikwa from Ziwa, Uasin Gishu county who is affected in the Uasin Gishu Overseas Education programme scam. She paid Sh852,000 under the programme to study either in Canada or Finland, but has not succeeded to go abroad since July 2022. She was supposed to fly out to Canada in November 2022, after failing to go to Finland.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Those affected paid millions for various study programmes in universities in Finland and Canada, but are still waiting for the trips more than a year after they were given the go-ahead.

The county government has been accused of failing to remit fees to universities abroad, with some students either not travelling to study or those who did being stranded abroad due to fee arrears.

On Monday, angry parents and students from the county held a protest demanding a refund of the money they had paid for their children under the programme. 

They held the deputy governor hostage at the governor's office in Kapseret sub-county before he escaped through the fence.

On Tuesday, Uasin Gishu Governor Jonathan Chelilim Bii challenged his predecessor Jackson Mandago — now Uasin Gishu senator — over corruption allegations that have marred the controversial Overseas Study Airlift programme, revealing that Sh32.7 million paid by parents for prospective students cannot be accounted for.

On Tuesday, Nation.Africa caught up with Ms Koech, who revealed that she has been waiting since July 2022 to join Laurea University in Finland to study nursing after successfully applying and paying the fees.

Diagnosed with depression

In July 2022, she paid Sh852,000 into the Uasin Gishu County Overseas Trust KCB account after a successful interview in March the same year.

"I was given a short time to pay the fees, so my husband had to secure a bank loan and we topped it up with a collection from a fundraiser," recalled the biotechnology graduate of Masinde Muliro university, who has since been diagnosed with depression as a result of the frustration of the unfulfilled dream.

"The Finland trip was cancelled and I was advised to write a letter changing my original destination from Finland to Sternberg College in Canada. This was in October 2022 and we were hoping to join the Canadian university," she told Nation.Africa.

The programme officials told her that the admission letter was expected in January 2023, but this did not materialise.

"The letter did not come and after the challenges experienced by those already in Finland, I wrote a letter in March 2023 to refund the money paid to the county. I wrote another letter for a refund in May 2023, but all was in vain," she said.

What drove her to the wall, she said, was the disdainful treatment she received from county officials when she went to the deputy governor's office to follow up on the matter.

"The secretary in the office was very rude. I would sit from 8am to 5pm for days on end with no communication. On some occasions, I would be told he was not there and yet I would hear him on the phone inside," she said bitterly. She said this drove her to consider suicide.

The Finland study scandal came to light last year when it emerged that some 202 students airlifted by the county government under the scheme hatched by the administration of Mr Mandago, were stranded and depressed in the foreign country. 

Edward Kiptek who paid Sh2.5m for his daughters to study in Finland shows an advert that the County government ran in 2022

Edward Kiptek from Kapseret who paid Sh2.5m for his two daughters to study in Finland demanding a full refund after they failed to join Laurea University in the now controversial Uasin Gishu Overseas Education program. He is showing an advertisement that Uasin Gishu County government ran in 2022 inviting applicants.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Rodgers Kipruto, a nursing student at Laurea University’s Tikkurila campus took his own life in April, citing frustration in Finland and was buried in May at his parents' home at Chirchir Farm in Kesses, Uasin Gishu County.

Mandago's cross

According to the governor, who called a press conference to address the matter, Sh32.7 million paid by parents for their children's school fees through a county government trust account cannot be accounted for, and Mr Mandago was best placed to explain what happened to the money. 

“We are not able to refund the money demanded by parents regarding the Canada and Finland study programme because the trust account has only Sh1.8 million. 

A whopping Sh33million cannot be accounted for,” said the Uasin Gishu Governor.

Although she is receiving counselling, Ms Koech said she was worried about servicing the bank loan and the possibility of not receiving a refund.

According to Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor John Barorot, 103 students have paid their fees in full and are set to join several universities in Canada, while a further 22 will enrol in Finnish universities, but the available funds could not sustain their studies.

"The facts are there for everyone to see, and after the complaints surfaced, we followed the money trail and found that there was a huge disparity in the amounts received by the universities (and what parents paid). The investigating agencies will unravel the truth," he said on Tuesday.

Another victim, Ms Irene Anjela, was a second year education student at Egerton University when her father, Mr Shadrack Juma, persuaded her to abandon her studies and opt for the Finland programme after he heard of the 'sweet' airlift deal.

"My daughter would have been in her final year by now had I not been swayed by the Finland craze. I have lost Sh1.2 million that I paid to the overseas trust and my child is now suffering at home. She has become withdrawn and can spend days in solitude crying for her shattered bright future," he said.

He accused the county government of wasting their children's lives, and insisted he wanted a refund of the money paid into the scheme.

"We want a refund and the county should stop the circus we have been subjected to. Our children's lives are at stake and as parents we are in a financial mess because of the loans we took and the property we sold to raise funds to facilitate the programme," he said.

Mr Shadrack Juma paid Sh1,2m for his daughter to join Laurea University Finland and wants a full refund after she failed to join

Mr Shadrack Juma from Turbo, Uasin Gishu County who paid Sh1,277,000 for his daughter Irene Angela to join Laurea University Finland, in the controversial Uasin Gishu Overseas Education program shows a letter from the university that cancelled the tailor-made pathway studies for students from Kenya. He is demanding a full refund after his daughter failed to join the university.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Now a club attendant

Another victim is Benjamin Cheboson, 24, who successfully enrolled in 2021. Mr Cheboson, an attendant at a club in Eldoret town, was one of the pioneers of the airlift programme in Uasin Gishu County.

He deferred his studies at a local university in the hope of a better life in Finland as a nursing student at Laurea University of Applied Sciences, Tikkurila campus.

"My parents could not raise the money. They organised a harambee and later sold a piece of land and a tractor to raise Sh1.2 million for the course," he told Nation.Africa.

He was supposed to travel in July 2022, but the trip was postponed to November and then to February 2023. "Everything has been in vain so far and we are now seeking a refund," he said.

"I am now working at a club in Eldoret town to supplement my family's income. The county government lied to us and gave us no way forward. I have suffered depression and even ridicule from the community that gave us financial support to go abroad," he said.

To add insult to injury, they were asked to enroll in a pathway online learning programme to learn the Finnish language and a basic nursing course while waiting for their trip to Finland.

"We were told to pay an additional Sh200,000 for the very expensive Pathway programme. All my dreams have since been shattered and this programme has affected my siblings who had seen me as their hope," said Mr Cheboson, a journalism and mass communication student at the Presbyterian University of East Africa.

Edward Kiptek who paid Sh2.5m for his daughters to study in Finland demanding a refund after they failed to join university

Mr Edward Kiptek, from Kapseret constituency who paid Sh2.5million for his two daughters Ruth Jeptoo Kibos and Ann Kigen Boss, to join Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Finland in the Uasin Gishu Overseas Education program. He is demanding a refund in full after his daughters failed to join the university.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Paid for two daughters

Also among the aggrieved is Mr Edward Kiptek, who spent a total of Sh2.5 million for his daughters Ruth Jeptoo and Ann Kigen to study in Finland under the programme. He is also seeking a refund.

His daughter, Ms Jeptoo, was to study engineering at Lappeenranta University of Technology, while her sister Ms Kigen was to study nursing at Laurea University. He paid Sh1.3 million and Sh1.2 million for them respectively.

"This is tantamount to killing families because we are under a lot of stress as parents and our children due to the Finland saga. We need a refund so that we can find alternative ways to secure our children's future," he said.

He accused the county of playing cat and mouse games with them as they seek answers about the programme, and said they would use all available means to seek justice.

"We will not relent in our quest for a refund because it is clear that the programme has collapsed and some individuals have taken our hard-earned money in their greed," he said.

Passed the buck

At Tuesday's press conference, Mr Bii absolved himself of blame, saying his predecessor Mr Mandago should be held accountable.

Governor Jonathan Bii and his Deputy Governor John Barorot and county officials addressing the press in Eldoret on July 11, 2023

Governor Jonathan Bii accompanied by Deputy Governor John Barorot (on his left) and other county officials during a press conference in Eldoret on July 11, 2023. Mr Bii said his predecessor Jackson Mandago should carry his cross because there is only Sh1.8million on the applicants fees collection account and Sh32.7million cannot be accounted for. The controversial Uasin Gishu Overseas Education programme was hatched during Mandago's reign.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

The governor said the matter should not be taken lightly because parents had sold their property to pay for their children's trips and stays abroad and they were now suffering.

"The concerns raised by the parents are weighty but my administration is only alleviating their burden by finding a solution and offering them psychosocial support. It is unfortunate because a life has already been lost," he said.

The governor noted that his hands were tied because the programme was administered by an independent trust — the Uasin Gishu Overseas Trust — and not the county government, with independent signatories, while the account at Kenya Commercial Bank was used to receive payments for students registered to enroll in Finnish and Canadian institutions.

"The money paid into this account was managed by signatories who were members of the trust. The county government was not and still is not in control of the account," he said, citing the findings of a task force he set up to investigate the matter.

Shockingly, he revealed, the trust was still collecting money through the account as recently as February this year, when the scandal broke and parents were advised not to make any further deposits.

"I have since suspended any new applications to the Department of Education for overseas programmes and we are continuing to facilitate travel to Finland for students who have already paid fees and other costs," he said.

Protesting parents in the Finland and Canada students airlift saga in Uasin Gishu County demanding a refund of their money

Parents in the Finland and Canada students airlift saga in Uasin Gishu County, during a protest at the governor's Kapseret sub-county office on July 10, 2023 demanding a refund of money paid towards the study program.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Impossible to refund now

Regarding parents' requests for refunds, Mr Bii said this was not possible at the moment because there was little money in the account.

"Through the task force, we were able to establish that there is a shortfall of Sh138.3 million in the account to enable the implementation of the programme for the outstanding students. The shortfall was caused by Sh87.6 million owed to the trust by some parents," he explained.

"Sh17.8 million is an overpayment to various institutions, both in Canada and Finland. This scenario arose when enrolled students were denied visas, failed the foundation studies and others decided to withdraw from the programme for personal reasons, but their fees had already been remitted to the institutions," the governor said.

As for the balance of Sh32.7 million, he disclosed that the task force has not been able to ascertain the whereabouts of the money and the investigating agencies are speeding up their work to enable the recovery of the funds.

"As at today, only Sh1.8 million is in the account, which cannot sustain the running of the programme unless parents pay more," he said.

The governor said the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, and all other relevant agencies were conducting further investigations on several county officials for forgery, abuse of office and lack of integrity.