Kenyatta University VC kicked out of office again

Prof Paul Wainaina

Kenyatta University Vice-Chancellor Paul Wainaina leaves the KU Amphitheatre after addressing the institution's staff on July 12, 2022. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

The turmoil at Kenyatta University has taken a new twist after the new council and management officially relieved the vice chancellor, Prof Paul Wainaina, of his duties. In a memo dated August 15, addressed to staff, students and security at the university by acting Vice-Chancellor Waceke Wanjohi, the council resolved to summarily dismiss the embattled vice-chancellor from service effective August 5, 2022. 

“Any communication from him are null and void. I therefore request you to remain focused and ensure that the university continues to run smoothly without any disruption,” said Prof Wanjohi. 

The dismissal comes less than a month after a court ordered Kenyatta University to reinstate Prof Wainaina after he was suspended for failing to surrender land to the state for a government project.

In two letters dated July 4 and July 7, Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua directed Prof Wainaina to surrender the title for Kenyatta University LR No. 1102/26 to allow the Ministry of Lands and Planning to take part of the land as directed by the Cabinet.

However, Prof Wainaina said the land was not idle and was already planned for. He revealed that the council had even submitted to Mr Kinyua the physical plan for developments they intended to put up, including students’ hostels. 

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha also called the council for a meeting at his office, where he ordered it to surrender the title deed. But Prof Wainaina refused and was subsequently suspended and the university council dissolved.

The new developments came barely three days after President Uhuru Kenyatta expressed displeasure at “individuals” whom he accused of delaying the construction of a World Health Organisation (WHO) regional and sub-global emergency operations and logistics hub on the land.

Speaking at KU hospital on Saturday, July 9, President Kenyatta cited a tussle regarding the ownership of the land on which the hub was to be set up.

He said that the last weeks of his 10-year tenure would be dedicated to resolving the dispute “swiftly and effectively”.

“A few of us who are learned unfortunately lack wisdom and behave like very ignorant people who have never even entered a classroom. This is the property of the Kenyan people held in trust by the GoK (Government of Kenya). We don’t operate in silos. You’re just a caretaker. Siku zake zimehesabiwa (His days are numbered). I still have three weeks. We shall deal with those individuals swiftly and effectively. Tutaenda nyumbani na wao (we’ll both go home),” Mr Kenyatta warned.

KU then filed a complaint, alleging that a WHO centre is being developed on its property without its authorisation. Prof Wainaina claimed that the parcel of land where the WHO hub was to sit was intended for a business school, a student recreation centre and hostels.

The 71-year-old educationist made a dramatic comeback to the public university after his emotional address to staff on July 12 suggested he had surrendered and resigned. There were also reports he had been sacked.

The former primary school teacher rose to the vice-chancellor position on January 26, 2018, after serving in an acting capacity for two years. He succeeded Prof Olive Mugenda, who is now the chairperson of the Kenyatta University Teaching, Research and Referral Hospital.

Prof Wainaina's tenure as vice-chancellor has been marred with challenges, not just the land tussle.

Barely two months after taking over the reins at Kenya’s second oldest university, lecturers went on a strike that lasted 78 days following disagreements on the implementation of a collective bargaining agreement covering 2010 to 2013, and 2013 to 2017, part of it before his tenure.

He pleaded with the lecturers to rethink the strike, noting that two months of university closure had far-reaching negative effects, some financial. In 2019, just when the dust seemed to have settled, some students, demanding his resignation, threatened to disrupt learning and picket.

The students accused Prof Wainaina of introducing “draconian rules” oppressive to them and their parents. This was after an increase in graduation fees and the compulsory usage of a new footbridge within the university.

Then followed the ownership tussle over the Kenyatta University Teaching, Research and Referral Hospital that escalated to Parliament.

A PhD holder in education philosophy from Canada, he understands the intrigues of Kenyan universities like the back of his hand. For 36 years, he has worked in different universities, with most of them spent at KU. He first became a lecturer at KU in 1985, before joining Moi University as a senior lecturer in 1987.

Prof Wainaina was associate professor of education at Moi University between 1990 and 1996, then rose to full professor at the same institution.

He went back to KU in 2005. Four years later, he was appointed a member of the KU Management Board, serving for five years. He also became a member of the Inter-Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum, which deals with employment in public institutions of higher learning.

One of Prof Wainaina’s biggest achievements at KU has been overseeing the construction of the university’s fly-over that connects the hostels and the main wing, a project whose completion and usage angered some students.

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