The immediate former Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University Prof. Olive Mugenda made tremendous history in the country’s academic world but in the recent past has been featuring in the media and the law courts for very wrong mundane reasons.
Though internationally not rated as her fellow academic giant, the late Prof. Wangari Maathai, Prof. Mugenda is one of the few women in the country who came from very humble family backgrounds and through hard work, beating all odds and challenges achieved high nationally and internationally recognized academic credentials for herself.
Professor Olive Mugenda
That is considering the fact that in Kenya the gender bias against women is still deeply rooted right from some of our homesteads through pre-primary all the way to the country’s higher institutions of learning that are all male dominated in all kinds of leadership positions small or big.
That bias was perhaps best demonstrated recently by the country’s second arm of the government Parliament when twice it short down the two thirds Gender parity Bill in parliament when it came up for debate despite pleas from President Uhuru Kenyatta and his opposition opponent Raila Odinga to pass it.
The biggest problem that is clearly evident with many people in the country is that they have a penchant to thrive on the mundane, petty, retrogressive, malicious, greed and worse slanderous rumour and speculation instead of dealing with hard, concrete, un-deniable and provable truths and progressive facts.
The wrong reasons featuring Prof. Mugenda in the media and the law courts of course does not automatically leave Kenyatta University out of the mess the institution she led for more than ten years to become not only one of the country’s academic giants but also in the region and internationally before her retirement.
The most dangerous thing about the negative attitudes practices amongst millions of Kenyans with penchants for muckraking for the petty and mundane instead of recognizing, applauding, feting, and emulating progressive successful stories of development is that it is extremely destructive and retrogressive in society.
Focusing on Kenyatta University we must recognize the fact that Prof. Mugenda took over leadership of that institution from Prof. Everest Shitanda who had taken over from a well known academic and administrative giant former VC the late Prof. George Eshiwani – another man who had steered it from very humble backgrounds to level competition with veteran national academic giants like the University of Nairobi.
At the departure of Prof. Eshiwani to whom Prof. Mugenda was one of the assistants, a man whose name had become synonymous with the institution he led throughout the country and the region. There were serious concerns not only at the university, the academic world but also throughout the country whether KU will get a Vice Chancellor to fit in Prof. Eshiwani’s boots considering his former connections to state house?
That is because the late Prof. Eshiwnai’s leadership had morphed beyond the confines of the Kenyatta University boundaries but also penetrated the most powerful office of the land to play ball with the then most powerful head of state in Kenya retired President Daniel arap Moi.
Therefore, with the late Prof. Eshiwani’s exit and entry of Prof. Mugenda as the first ever woman to hold that position in a public university many tongues within and outside the academic world wagged wondering whether the new VC will manage the institution which had grown to become the country’s second largest public university all around.
The university’s academic and physical achievements were also commendable at that particular time hence the biggest challenge for Mugenda as the new VC being able to performeven better and beat the apparently gigantic steps her predecessors had set.
Of course in virtually every public institution in the country there is always a struggle for power with fierce silent competition to win the vacant post even after winning with the immediate challenges of consolidating one’s position and power in a male dominated environment – Mugenda went through it all.
Indeed it’s worth mentioning here that there were otherwomen professional academic giants like the late Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Maathai who won many international recognitions but at home the administration of retired President Mwai Kibaki could not recognize her with a fully fledged cabinet ministerial post, but only as an assistant minister, Prof. Norah Olembo among others – who did not make it asVCs in any of the country’s public universities.
Though KU is now currently being accused by its detractors of cash for high grades, what is clear is the fact that by the time Prof. Mugenda retired from her leadership at the institution tremendous progress had been achieved both physical and academic.
Being located right on the Thika Super Highway some of the very first improvements the members of the public could see was the construction of a very attractive main gate, followed by a huge peri-meter wall to secure the university’ s land from Kenyans who are known to be hungry and greedy land grabbers.
That was going on as more faculties were being expanded and consolidated at the institution that was initially established by the government as a University offering virtually exclusively education degrees only and no other areas compared to the University of Nairobi.
It’s from there that Prof. Mugenda embarked on an ambitious and aggressive expansion programme that saw the university diversify its menu of diploma and degree course programmes on offer right from undergraduate to postgraduate levels – of course with tremendous eruption of more staff and student population.
Undergraduate and post graduate degree courses which were once a preserve of the University of Nairobi like law, commerce, medicine, engineering, communications and technology among others could now be accessed at KU complete with a hospital and mortuary at the School of Medicine at the main campus on Thika highway.
That is not to mention expansion of the institution’s campuses to virtually each and every corner of the country as competition amongst the country’s public universities virtually went wild since the advent of the year 2000 – that was the only woman competing other institutions headed by men.
We have not talked of enrolment increments during her tenure, the quality of education improvements in the same period, engagements outside the university in academic, professional and sporting or extra curricula activities.
It is from this background that one wonders the audacity and callousness the country’s muckrakers can go in trying to hound some of the country’s best achievers and performers with real or imagined muck in litigation and the media.
Right from the time she was preparing to retire from the VC post to date, busy bodies rushed to the law courts with litigations of all kinds and manner and worse even after being given a three year contract to mother the Health Care Systems that she bore (started) – muckrakers were up with litigation challenging that appointment.
The worst state of affairs is going to the extend of dragging in innocent family members and heaping them with highly questionable and unverifiable accusations that are so cheap, so mundane and myopic that individuals who are used to looking at the bigger picture in the sphere of things simply get appalled because this are un-speakable mundane, petty things that keeps our country from growing.