“Peace has had flirtatious relationship with this University. I want to be the High Priest who will preside over the marriage between peace and this University”
These were the words of Professor PLO Lumumba on the 9th December, 1984 at the Great Court while delivering a speech at the inaugural ceremony as Chairman of the students Organization of Nairobi University (SONU) of the University of Nairobi. The same words that have been ringing in my head when I saw students from different universities hold their demonstrations last week.
Strikes by students in the universities are not a new phenomenon but the purpose of this strike was just bizarre. In the past, students in Kenya have demonstrated for cogent reasons which actually led to the growth of democracy in the Country. Most leaders in government were nurtured from the nursery of university politics. Leaders like Honourable James Orengo, Irungu Kang’ata and Ken Obura began as student leaders who agitated for change during the KANU regime. As a result of their agitation we can enjoy the liberties enshrined in the constitution and also multi-party democracy.
On June 4th in 1989, University students all over China gathered and held their protest at the Tiananmen Square, located in the centre of Beijing. The students were agitating for freedom of media and expression in their motherland. The students also pleaded with the communist party to end corruption and nepotism in the government. The youths in the country had no more hope in the country because there were no jobs and their fundamental rights had been infringed. The government of Premier Li Peng enforced Martial law and hundreds of students lost their lives and thousands were arrested while some were executed. This came to be known as the Tiananmen Massacre.
The loss of lives in Tiananmen Massacre brought new life into activism in China. It brought to attention the issues that were raised by the students and the government has tremendously achieved economic growth. The people realised that democracy is bloody and it will never be realised fully. The Tiananmen Massacre is never mentioned in China but the heroic actions of those students were a whirlwind that made the poor economic span of china a history.
The students in Kenya are crying for a different subject. Not Education and neither economic nor political change. They were demanding for the release of the student’s loan which had been delayed by reasonable time and the respective body in charge of the funds had given a convincing response to their worries.
Instead they would go ahead and stone innocent motorists because they have not received their small loans. What really happened to the academic institutions that churned out great thinkers like Aristotle and Plato? Do you have hope to redeem the souls of the students’ leadership in Kenya? We have diminished the power of strikes and demonstrations and my greatest fear is that … the students of this generation will not leave a historic mark to be celebrated by our children.
The time has come where genuine student leaders, like PLO Lumumba, should stand up to be counted in the dais of leadership. If we are to enjoy the future, then we have to set standards for ourselves and our descendants. As Theodore Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame University, animadverted that; “the very essence of leadership is to have a vision that the students will follow. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”