Stalemate over appointment of Kaimosi University VC leads to crisis

Kaimosi University

Students make way into the university on July 31, 2022.

Photo credit: Isaac Wale | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • “They have [ganged up] against me because I declined to bend procurement laws to award them irregular contracts.” - Former acting VC, Prof Jack Nandi Manyasa.

The push-and-pull over the appointment of Kaimosi University’s Vice-Chancellor (VC) has left the institution in a leadership crisis punctuated by transfers and revocation of appointments.

The stalemate stems from demands from a section of the local community for “one of their own” and is opposed to the leadership of the former acting VC, Jack Nandi Manyasa, who hails from Mumias.

Prof Nandi has been in charge of the university since 2015 when it was still a constituent university college of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST).

In August of 2022, former president Uhuru Kenyatta issued charters to eight universities around the country with the hope of lifting academic standards at the grassroots level and boosting the economies of local communities.

However, since the charter was awarded, Kaimosi Friends University (KAFU) has been caught up in a protracted contest over who should be the substantial Vice-Chancellor.

Instead of spurring academic and economic growth, the institution has been stuck in a leadership battle of attrition barely two years after its confirmation as a fully-fledged university.

The wrangles intensified after a change of guard saw the acting Vice Chancellor replaced on an interim basis to allow for the appointment of a substantive one.

Prof Nandi relinquished his post to Prof Peter Mwita on February 19, 2023.

The tussle for who controls the Vihiga-based institution started when the Public Service Commission (PSC) announced vacancies for the position of a Vice-Chancellor and two deputies.

The application deadline was August 28, 2023, before shortlisting and interviews were conducted.

As top university professors applied to be shortlisted for interviews to fill the vacant seats, some local community members and Vihiga leaders started a campaign to ensure that the posts were given to qualified professionals with integrity, all the while alleging that the current acting administrators had failed.

Prof Nandi was among those who applied for the Vice Chancellor job and was among the front runners, who included Prof Mary Abukutsa Onyango.

Whereas Prof Nandi was born in Mumias (Kakamega County) and raised in Bungoma County, Prof Onyango is from Vihiga County.

According to the law, VCs of public universities should be appointed by the University Council in consultation with the Cabinet Secretary, after a competitive hiring process conducted by the Public Service Commission.

Impeccable sources have told that the Public Service Commission sent a letter to Kaimosi University on December 15, 2023, requesting confirmation of Prof Nandi as the VC.

However, controversy erupted after Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu recommended Prof Onyango for the position of VC.

Prof Nandi moved to court and got conservatory orders restraining the university council from appointing Prof Onyango as the VC.

The unfolding situation has ignited public outcry, with calls for transparency and adherence to due process in the appointment of university leadership.

While transitions in public universities have been reduced to political contests, senior politicians from Vihiga and Kakamega counties have been accused of spearheading a scheme to shortchange Prof Nandi.

“These are people who have come to my office severally demanding tenders, but I since would not break procurement rules to give them irregular contracts, they are not happy with me,” said Prof Nandi in a previous media interview.

The dispute between allies of Prof Nandi and those of Prof Onyango have dragged in the Acting VC Prof Peter Mwita, who is now accused of harassing, intimidating and victimising the staff that worked under Prof Nandi.

In the past month, the leadership wrangles have been characterised by protests, demonstrations and court battles affecting activity at the varsity.

Learning was last week temporarily paralysed with stakeholders accusing CS Machogu of interference.

A civil society organisation, Concerned Citizens Alliance (CCA) has raised its concern on the prevailing situation at KAFU alleging abuse of office by both the Acting VC and the Human Resource Manager, Peter Mugesani.

Through a petition citing unsuitability to hold a public office, the activists want the Education Cabinet Secretary to recall the acting VC and appoint a substantive VC based on the recommendations of the university’s council and the results of the PSC interviews.

“KAFU is breaking into pieces and we ask Dr Machogu to recall Prof Mwita and bring a neutral professor who will hold brief for the duration of the court case. We also call upon the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate how members of one family have been employed in the university drawing about Sh800,000 in salaries per month,” Gadaffi Isiavale, the CCA chairperson averred.

“No one has been fired. Dr Imbunya is still a senior lecturer of this university and what she was holding was just added responsibility, it’s upon the management to give the same duties to another person when it is deemed right,” Prof Mwita responded.